Houseboats as quarantines: experts urge govt to rethink

Houseboats as quarantines: experts urge govt to rethink

The South Indian state of Kerala has been relatively successful in containing coronavirus epidemic after a rather bumpy start, thanks to novel measures like ‘Break The Chain’. However, experts are cautioning the authorities to go slow on their latest plan to turn houseboats into Covid-19 isolation wards.

“Several scientific studies carried out in different laboratories around the world have clearly demonstrated that many of the viruses, including coronavirus, survive in water – whether it is tap water, waste water or sewage water, for varying periods of time,” said Dr G Nagendra Prabhu, Principal Investigator, Centre for Research on Aquatic Resources, S D College, Alappuzha.

State Publics Work Department Minister G Sudhakaran had said work was on to convert at least 2,000 houseboats into isolation wards. The state government is expecting huge influx of Indian nationals from abroad once the travel ban is relaxed by May first half and is racing to prepare sufficient quarantine facilities. Most of the houseboats are located in and around Alappuzha, known as the ‘Venice of the East’ for its greenery fringed canals and tranquil lagoons.

Factors such as temperature, exposure to light, organic matter and presence of antagonistic microorganisms mainly contribute to survival chances of the viruses. The viruses can absorb (surface absorption) on particles of organic matter which affects their settling behaviour and protects them from exposure to light,” Dr Prabhu pointed out.

“Many scientists believe that coronavirus exist in and could maintain their viability in sewage and hospital wastewater, originating from fecal discharge of infected patients. The SARS-CoV-2 could, thus, already be present in wastewater, although its concentration and viability are yet to be confirmed,” he added.

 Recently there were reports that novel coronavirus was detected in the water in Paris, France. Laboratory tests detected tiny amounts of the virus in four of 27 samples collected from around the capital, mainly from Seine river.

“Even if a small per cent of persons quarantined in house boats turn positive for Covid-19, think of the situation in Kuttanad, an island housing agrarian what will be the situation in agrarian Kuttanad (region housing?  We have the general habit of spitting out and throwing our trash and wastes in the water.  This adds to the risk of spreading the virus in the waters of Vembanad Lake,” said Prabhu, who leads a global project to weed out water hyacinth from the region.

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