Experts say that quarantine is one of the most effective ways of containing an epidemic. Therefore, it is imperative that more than the steps taken by the Government, we impose self-restrictions at an early stage to limit the COVID-19 spread and help each other in this trying time
Most of India is in a lockdown as the country collectively tries to prevent the deadly Coronavirus from spreading into the community. We began the exercise to beat the virus on March 22 with the unprecedented voluntary 7 AM to 9 PM “Janta (public) Curfew” in response to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s televised appeal to people to stay indoors.
Given our numbers, a whopping 1.3 billion people, it was by far the biggest social-distancing exercise in the world against the Coronavirus outbreak.
The country has been in a lockdown ever since and the Prime Minister gave a hint of what was to come when he said that India should be prepared for a long haul. Modi tweeted on Sunday night, “Today’s #JantaCurfew may get over at 9 PM but that doesn’t mean we should start celebrating. Do not consider it a success. Today the countrymen have declared we are capable, if we decide we can beat the biggest challenge together.”
India stands at the tipping point, having reached Stage-III of the pandemic as confirmed by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on March 22. From here it could take a flat curve like Korea or an upward curve like Europe. The “Janta Curfew” was Modi’s idea of mobilising public support to fight the Coronavirus through extended lockdowns soon afterwards. It was a bid to create greater awareness in the country about the danger of the pandemic and remind everyone of their duty towards the nation.
All epidemics evoke fear and panic since they result in fatalities and the Coronavirus is no exception. However, in its management, four elements are important: Science; the public healthcare system; political will and public support. Where science is concerned, human trials of the Coronavirus vaccine have already begun and doctors are experimenting with the use of various drugs that already exist to fight the pandemic. However, in India, much more needs to be done on the public healthcare front, which is not equipped to handle a medical emergency of this scale. As far as political will and support is concerned, Modi’s appeal and the subsequent lockdowns by various State Governments across the nation show that we are doing well on this front. And the fact that the Prime Minister’s appeal for the “Janta curfew” and the subsequent lockdowns received overwhelming support across the spectrum shows that people are behind the Government, too.
India was never as united as it is today. Several Chief Ministers, Members of Parliament, political parties, sports personalities, film stars and TV celebrities came on board to make the “Janta Curfew” and the lockdowns that have followed it, a success. The support for the Union Government also came from unexpected quarters, including the Congress and other Opposition parties.
Even religious institutions don’t seem averse to the Government’s measures, as temple authorities across the country have come on board and closed temples in an unprecedented move. Priests in a temple in Varanasi decided to put masks on the idols and posters have been put up urging devotees to refrain from touching the idols. Even most churches across India are shut and most Sunday services were either suspended or held online. This is quite a feat given that this is the Holy Lenten month for Christians across the globe and churches are usually full at this time of the year.
Now that the country is in a lockdown, the question is what lies ahead? The challenge before the Modi Government is formidable. Many nations have announced support for their economies and businesses and people who are losing out on their livelihoods. The UK proposes to spend 330 million pounds and the US close to a trillion dollars. Even European countries like France, Spain and Italy are getting ready to spend billions of euros. The Modi Government, too, will have to mobilise all the resources at its disposal to keep the country pandemic-free and also ensure that the livelihoods of people are safeguarded. The Centre and the States will have to focus on how to deal with lakhs of people who will be in dire straits due to the lockdown. This is particularly so in the case of construction workers, taxi and auto-rickshaw drivers, daily-wage earners, domestic help, small business enterprises and so on. The Government has to think of a huge economic package to tide over the present crisis. The more drastic the precautionary health measures, the greater will be the fallout on the economy. Modi has announced an economic task force under the Finance Minister but they are yet to come up with welfare schemes, though Nirmala Sitharaman did extend the last date of filing income tax returns on Tuesday. However, some States like UP, Telangana and Delhi have come out with relief packages.
Also, at a time like this, the people have to realise that pursuing one’s own self-interest is not done and each citizen also has to think of public interest. While we all have the legal right to buy as much hand sanitiser and face wipes we can find, what about the welfare of the society in which we live? India believes in Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the whole world is one family) so now is the time to prove this with our behaviour.
Experts say that quarantine is one of the most effective ways of containing an epidemic. Therefore, it is imperative that more than the steps taken by the Government we impose self-restrictions at an early stage to limit the Coronavirus spread and help each other in this trying time. As Dr Paul, head of the medical task force at the Centre, commented in a TV show, “The Coronavirus is a once-in-a century epidemic and has to be fought as such.” Indeed desperate times need desperate measures.
(The writer is a senior journalist)