Paramilitary soldiers patrol along a street during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the Covid-19 coronavirus in Goa on March 29. Photo: AFP

As India reels under the monstrous onslaught of the Coronavirus pandemic, Goa initially became the first of its states to go Covid-19 free. As all the active cases were officially reported as cured, and no new Covid-19 positive cases were recorded after April 3, 2020, this small state on India’s western coast was declared the first “green” state in the country.

However, on May 13, the state recorded seven more positive cases counting people who came in from the nearby states of Maharashtra and Gujarat, and this figure kept on rising to reach more than 250 cases in early June.

This former Portuguese colony, known for its pristine beaches and nightclubs, attracts large numbers of domestic as well as foreign tourists throughout the year. The peak tourist months range from December to February – which not only coincided with the extended Christmas and New Year breaks but, this year, with the dreadful novel coronavirus that swept across the world.

This was quite worrisome for the state in the beginning, since a large number of Covid-19 cases in India were transmitted by foreigners – especially the European tourists in the country.

Goa being a tourist hotspot, a large number of foreigners were stranded in this region as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak followed by the national lockdowns. On March 22, a thousand foreign tourists flew out of Goa on three charter flights. Those evauees were followed by another 370, who were evacuated from the state on charter flights to Manchester and Moscow on March 25.

At first, Goa tested 800 people, among whom seven positive cases were detected. Although, all of those cases had histories of travel to other countries, the scare of community transmission was not entirely rejected. Healthcare technology came to the rescue for Goa in the initial phase of the pandemic. Even after being declared a “green” state, Goa conducted a three-day door-to-door survey from April 13.

India’s possssion of a huge engineering talent base, along with the variety of tech startups, contributed to the technologically innovative ways it has employed to control the pandemic in the country. The integrated efforts of the universities, industries, governments and startups have helped in making these innovations effective.

Modern applications used at the moment range from robots dispensing hand sanitizers to drones monitoring social distancing rules.

The government of Goa partnered with San Francisco-headquartered Innovaccer Inc. to help the citizens conduct self-assessment tests for the coronavirus.

Goa, in March, was one of the first states in India to develop this application aimed at collecting information from the users based on their responses after gauging symptoms. The app also presents solutions with regard to the next step that the user should take.

Known as”Test Yourself Goa,” this application has assisted the state in tackling the spread of the coronavirus as people first take the self-assessment test instead of queuing up in crowded hospitals. The application also provides information on self-quarantine, help-line numbers and updates related to the pandemic as well as guidelines and other precautionary measures.

Goa’s high literacy rate (87.4%, which is higher than the national average of 74.04%, according to the latest Census data) has proved to be an immense contribution towards making this technology application operational.

In fact, the literacy factor has also helped in maintaining the hygiene and sanitation guidelines in the local areas alongside helping the administration to implement the lockdown. The government of India followed in Goa’s footsteps and launched the “Aarogya Setu App” to tackle the Covid-19 outbreak in the country. Aarogya Setu, which literally translates into “Health Bridge,” became the world’s most-downloaded application with more 50 million users within just two weeks of its launch on April 1.

Goa shares borders with two badly affected states in India – Maharashtra and Karnataka, which as of early June reported totals of approximately 80,000 and 5000 COVID-19 positive cases. Goa ceased all interstate transport (except essential services) and closed off its borders on March 21, before the national lockdown started on March 25.

Additionally, Goa’s comparatively small geographical area and low population density have also positively contributed to governing the state amidst such an unprecedented situation.

However, people with travel history from the nearby states have once again become a headache for the state in the past few weeks. In fact, after India’s complete lockdown was officially lifted on 1st June, the problem has worsened to the extent that Covid-19 has now reached the state’s rural districts, as well.

The Chief Minister of Goa had initially declared that government offices would resume work, but, “to ensure that we continue to remain a green zone state, social distancing will have to be maintained. State transport buses will ensure this while shifting government staff. Two-wheelers will have a single occupant and 1,000 thermal guns will be positioned at various places.”

This fresh wave of cases, after almost a month has removed Goa from the list of ‘”green” states. The recent COVID-19 developments are bound to make the state government more cautious now.

(Note: The author acknowledges Vani Kaushik at WB National University of Juridical Sciences for her research assistance on this piece.)

Soumya Bhowmick

Soumya Bhowmick is an associate fellow at the Centre for New Economic Diplomacy, Observer Research Foundation, India. His research focuses on globalization economics, Indian economy and governance, and sustainable development.