In simple terms, a disaster is defined as an event, which has caused damage to life and property. The disasters can be natural like, earthquakes, floods, landslides etc., they can be man-made like industrial accidents, oil spills, etc.
One disaster which is going on is the current COVID-19 health emergency which can be said to be more a manmade disaster, resulted from a man-animal conflict, than a natural one. Just like earthquakes, it is also difficult to predict when a pandemic will start. It is also difficult to predict that when it will end. But a pandemic is different from other disasters on many counts like:
Most disasters like earthquake, floods, famines and even man-made disasters like industrial accidents can be mapped geographically, and more or less limited to certain areas. Thus, relatively fixed location on maps helps in the allocation of resources in a better manner for preparedness, and response to such a disaster. But, a pandemic like COVID-19 is mostly not bounded by geography, as it is carried by the people, whose movement is driven more by economic, social and cultural factors, rather than geography.
Most of the other disaster doesn’t pose a challenge to the treatment protocols of the affected persons in medical care facilities. But the pandemics invariably poses a challenge to the existing protocols of the medical diagnosis and treatment. Thus, medical systems have to constantly evolve new strategies to treat the victims of a pandemic. This is challenging, as the development of treatment protocols and vaccines is a time-consuming process.
The phrases like the fatigue of the rescue worker are not heard in any other disasters, but it is most often heard during a pandemic. The simple reason is that the active phase of a pandemic usually lasts for years when compared to floods and earthquakes whose active phase is of few days. For example, the Spanish flu of 1918, was around for two years, the present COVID-19 pandemic is there for almost a year and a half, with no signs of weakening in near future.
So, these differences call for a different strategy to deal with the pandemic as a disaster. Some of the changes can be:
There can be a district-wise, state-wise and nationwide lockdown strategy. Where instead of enforcing nationwide lockdown, a bubble of complementary districts can be identified. These shall be identified on the basis of economic, social and cultural factors, to limit the interaction of people and prevent the spread of disease. For example, an outbreak in New Delhi will not only affect New Delhi but also the neighbouring districts of other states in the National Capital Region (NCR).
Emergency approvals of drugs and treatment regimes are common in the present pandemic. In order to take quick and accurate decisions, artificial intelligence and machine learning can be used. It can help to churn into the big data, for developing treatment protocols and medicines, quickly.
Industrial clusters can be categorized as essential and non-essential industrial clusters. The essential industrial clusters shall be designed in such a way that in case of a pandemic they can function as a bubble. The infrastructure shall be such that the workers keep on producing the essentials without worrying about their shelter, medical and other facilities. A similar isolation strategy is pretty successful in the case of the eastern coast of India, where a number of cyclone shelters were made to temporarily accommodate the person living in cyclone-prone areas.
Protocols for easier communication with the general public can be developed. For example, New Zealand used Alert Levels 1,2,3 and 4 for informing the general public about the scenario of the pandemic in their country. Each alert level had some fixed guidelines/restrictions. Moreover, the country also used alert level maps, showing the geographical boundaries of different alert levels. Such alerts levels are easier to understand and comprehend by the general public and can be pretty useful in our case also.
The fatigue of frontline worker can be avoided, by providing them with basic facilities like PPE’s, showing sensitivity towards their work, appreciating their work at all levels, and providing a special grievance redressal mechanism to them.
Some of the above points can be used in the present pandemic also, some can be reserved for future considerations. There can be many more such points, but, as a unit, if we can plan better, we can face present or any future pandemic in a better way.