Hyderabad: The elections to seven urban local bodies (ULBs) in Telangana state scheduled for April 30, which neither the state government nor the State Election Commission has decided to postpone in response to a court directive, will most likely push back the efforts by the government to control the second wave of Covid-19, night curfew and all.
Elections are scheduled for the municipal corporations of Greater Warangal and Khammam, and the municipalities of Achampet, Siddipet, Nakrekal, Jadcherla and Kothur, which together have a population of around 12.45 lakh. The total voters in the ULBs are 1,16,221, according to the State Election Commission.
With the Coronavirus rampaging through every district of the state, simple calculations, based on April 22 (Thursday’s) Covid-19 positivity rate of 5.4 per cent, indicates that if the virus continues to behave the way it is doing at present, it could well infect, in a worst-case scenario, a stupendous 67,230 people in ULBs going for polls. This is without factoring in a higher risk associated with campaigning by political parties, especially organizing of rallies and public meetings.
Though every political party has been advised to follow Covid-19 safety protocols such as everyone wearing face masks properly and maintain physical distance, this has become, as was witnessed during the campaign for the Nagarjunasagar Assembly seat bypoll on April 17, a mere euphemism.
On the ground, party leaders and cadre enjoy a de facto licence to do what politicians do best – look at their own future, use people and them leave them to fend for themselves.
For instance, in Nalgonda district, in which Nagarjunasagar constituency falls, saw a slew of political rallies and public meetings, leading to the bypoll. It witnessed a serious spike in Covid-19 cases, which on April 8 stood at 88, rose to 102 on April 14, to 144 on April 20, and doubled overnight to 285 on April 21. On April 22, the number fell to 161 but that could well be because of lower testing, as authorities began running out of test kits in several districts.
In fact, post the election, health minister Etala Rajendar and power minister G. Jagadish Reddy were worried enough to hold a meeting with health department officials from the former united Nalgonda district to check on how bad the Covid-19 situation was.
What is very worrying scenario according to the state health department is that 80 per cent of all cases being discovered are asymptomatic. It implies large percentage of people, without exhibiting any symptoms, are fully capable of spreading it to others, who might be vulnerable.
Anyone not yet discovered to be Covid-19 positive and moving around freely, is like a time-bomb that could go off any time, infecting those around.
While accurate projections cannot be made as data on the tested ‘universe’ of people and the universe of asymptomatic cases is not made available by the health department, which has over the past year, kept most of the critical data on various parameters, close to its chest and never made it public for any kind of an analysis by public health experts.
“The simple principle everyone has to ask themselves when willing to go into public meetings or rallies is ‘will I get out of this alive? Are elections and power worth it?’,” said a public health policy and infectious diseases specialist.
According to a senior doctor, it is estimated that at least 10 per cent of the population is infected by Covid-19 any point of time in the state currently. This in turn means that of the 12,45,000 odd people in the seven ULBs going to polls, at least 1,24,500 could already be carrying the disease.
If 80 per cent of these are asymptomatic, then it would mean that 99,600 asymptomatic Covid-19 carriers could be on the loose capable of spreading it to others. And by not being willing to postpone elections by a few weeks, the state government and SEC are risking lives of over a million people for a couple of corporations and a handful of municipalities.