The new normal

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The new normal

Wednesday, 20 May 2020 | Kalyani Shankar

We cannot let our guard down and must continue to follow social distancing norms, wear masks and avoid crowded places

How will life change for us in the post-lockdown period and what have we learnt from the Coronavirus outbreak? Many experts in India and abroad have stressed the point that the world as we know it will change forever and will now be divided into the pre and post-Coronavirus period. Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan is clear that while there is no need to get paranoid, at the same time it is imperative that Government guidelines be fully and completely adhered to by the citizens of the country.

We cannot afford to let our guard down and must continue to follow guidelines like social distancing, wearing a mask when outside the house, avoiding crowded places and sanitising our hands repeatedly, among other things. Social distancing is the backbone of the current strategy that the Government has adopted to slow the spread of the virus. Telemedicine is the new doctor-patient relationship. Globetrotters will have to find a new way to amuse themselves as travel is to be strictly avoided in the immediate future. Going to the movie hall and shopping in the mall is taboo for now. Big fat weddings are forbidden. Handshakes are out and the good old “namaste” is in. Working from home wherever possible is the new norm. Webinars will continue and in short a new lifestyle should be devised individually/collectively and followed scrupulously. This is the new normal that we have to get used to.

So what does the oft-repeated phrase, learn to live with the Coronavirus, mean? Harsh Vardhan says that it means that the Coronavirus is not going away anytime soon. Though other diseases like small pox had been eradicated, this virus will be around like the Ebola and SARS. It is imperative to follow the hygiene guidelines that have been given by experts until a vaccine/drug is found. Many scientists in India and abroad are working round-the-clock on a vaccine/drug, but it will take time.

While the pandemic is highly-infectious and deadly, some good things have emerged in the last few weeks due to the panic triggered by the Covid-19. For the first time Prime Minister Narendra Modi has shown that he wants to take everybody along in the fight against the virus, including the Opposition, Chief Ministers of all States and not just the BJP-ruled ones, the media and the public. Both, the Centre and State Governments have shown that they can rise to the occasion and work together, putting aside their differences and political agenda. Cooperative and competitive federalism have come into play for the first time. The States have competed with each other in their enterprise and performance and even  egoistic regional satraps like Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan earned praise from the Prime Minister for their enterprise. The fear of the unknown has done the trick.

Second, what the Supreme Court and the State Governments could not do in decades to ensure clean air, clear blue skies, rejuvenated water bodies, restoration of wildlife and so on, the Covid– 19 has achieved in just a few months, as it forced nations to go into lockdown and put all economic activity on hold.

Another plus is that the citizens of India have shown that they can fight the pandemic unitedly and be disciplined when they want to. Despite many difficulties, by and large people have obeyed the Government’s guidelines, observed social distancing norms and obeyed the lockdown rules. 

Significantly, due to the combined efforts of the Union Health Ministry and the States, the death toll in India is much less than many other countries including the US and Italy. For a country of a whopping 1.3 billion people, the number of Coronavirus cases is 1,01,139 and the death toll is 3,163. Rural India has played a very significant role in keeping the numbers down till now. Villagers have saved the country by maintaining strict vigil and by keeping strangers out. They have by and large behaved responsibility and kept returnees outside the villages, in quarantine.

However, nothing is all rosy and, of course, there have been failings on the part of the Government and other stakeholders in handling the human tragedy and suffering brought on by the outbreak. Employers, the Centre and State Governments are responsible for the plight of the migrant labourers who continue to suffer even today, over 50 days after the lockdown was announced suddenly by the Centre. Things could have been handled much better and a humane approach was lacking. Neither the migrant labourers, their families nor the country will ever forget the way the less-fortunate were treated with apathy and callousness. 

As the virus throws up new challenges each day, we as a country are still learning to cope with it. However, the most important lesson that the pandemic has taught us is that health is wealth, not only for individuals but also for the nation and the healthcare sector should get priority funding. A healthy nation can meet any challenge that life throws at it.

(The writer is a senior journalist)

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