Fishing in troubled waters?
Given the enormity of the task that lies ahead, we must avoid blame games and put a united resistance against the rising second wave
Today we are going through the most difficult time, unparalleled in history, as the pandemic poses a challenge of life and death to every citizen in the world. Unfortunately, India which seemed to have successfully controlled Covid-19 infections and deaths by early September 2020, and also began vaccination by February 2021, suddenly is plunged into the second wave, more disastrous than the first. Last week, the media reported that as per the projection of IITs of Kanpur and Hyderabad there will be a rise in cases between 33 to 35 lakhs in May. It may not be incorrect if the single-day rise of 3.86 lakh cases and 3,498 deaths on Wednesday, April 30, is any indication of the worse yet to descend on people. Almost for a week, the daily cases are no less than three lakhs and active cases cumulatively are around 1.8 cr with the total death toll crossing 2,08,330. The nation is gripped in a state of misery as uncertainty looms large. Tedros Adhanom, Chief of WHO commented that "the situation in India is beyond heart-breaking". The pain and panic need no telling as hospitals are running out of beds and oxygen, while funeral grounds are out of space. The virus is taking lives incessantly irrespective of age or class, young and old or rich and poor.
People across sections are ye to recover from the frustration and despair caused by the first wave. While some have lost their dear ones due to lack of medical facilities, some lost jobs and some lost their savings. It is unfortunate that even as the economy began to limp back to recovery from early November last year, the second wave has become a stumbling block on the path. Notwithstanding the promising prognostications of future recovery of the economy by financial engineers and business experts, the reality is a visible reduction in the purchasing power and slow pace of growth in the first quarter. The near-collapse of sectors like hospitality (hotels, catering, food and beverages) aviation, and surface transport including railways which by and large are indicators of growth in business and economic activity, doesn't auger well.
Reduction in cases and deaths in September 2020 and arrival of vaccines in January appeared to have led to complaisance. People began living normally and without masks. The sudden surge in cases of infection and deaths in the five major states is a heads up for the rest of India. Hospitals are unable to cope up with increasing admissions and patients are succumbing to the disease in hours. As India ranks 155 of 167 nations in hospital bed density, a doctor in India caters to more than 1,500 and a nurse to 670 patients against WHO's parameters of 1,000 and 300 respectively. After all, the country cannot have such luxury with a population of 1.19 billion. In all fairness, the governments both at the centre and in states are doing the best possible in the limited resources. The amount of publicity for awareness and care against Covid-19 was of epic proportions and against all odds, the machinery rose to the occasion though success eludes. However, the monumental illiteracy and perpetual poverty in the country will not permit strict adherence to the scientific protocols of Covid-19. Besides people in India, enjoy an enviable right of freedom ranging from contesting for a legislative house to open deification; it's practically impossible to regiment citizens. Demands of spiritual calls, social conglomerations in celebrations, ceremonies of births and deaths outweigh medical advisories. Moreover, the daily struggle for existence forces the poor to prefer risk to starvations; let's not forget the traumatic experience the migrants experienced in the first wave. Even as the general medical awareness among them is still primitive, compliance to Covid protocols is far-fetched. Therefore, perseverance in the mission with 'test, track and treat' policy is the only way until we see the first light in this prolonged dark night of pandemic.
Sadly, alongside the heat of the second wave, we also see the dust of the blame game. The first and instant target is the government and its delivery agencies. People who once extolled and felicitated doctors, nurses and medical staff as 'Corona Warriors' are pouncing upon them at places, for alleged callousness, so much so that even manhandling and vandalising hospital property have become a means of retaliation for the death of their loved ones. People don't seem to realise that prevention could have been better than cure and doctors are mere mortals and not Gods. Corona has become a leveller. Scores of IAS and IPS officers in the line of duty ended up as Covid patients. Many other government functionaries all over the country as frontline workers embraced Covid. Fishing in troubled waters to take advantage of situations, obviously, by the politicians has begun with attacks against the dispensation. But the modus operandi is selective as per party affiliations. The opposition in one state attacks the ruling party there for alleged mismanagement but all the same prefers to be silent concerning similar charges elsewhere where the tables are turned against them. Kumbh mela and recent state elections are now blamed largely for the second wave, but it's surprising that none of the political parties or leaders opposed them or insisted on postponing the election under a president rule until Covid is controlled. Almost all have acquiesced in organising both the mega-events for no one wanted to be politically incorrect.
Anyways, now it's heartening to note that the world community has come forward to help India. More than 15 countries including the US are rushing critical emergency use equipment such as oxygen concentrators, respirators and, large quantities of liquid oxygen. While the United States will be providing 60 million doses of Astra Zeneca vaccine in the next two months, France is sending eight oxygen generating plants and five liquid oxygen containers; Germany will make oxygen production plant available in three months. These are only illustrative and more international help and cooperation is believed to be in the pipeline. No matter the quantity of help, it will be a great morale booster in the global fight against Covid.
We have a lot of work to do. Instead of involving in trials, judgements or blame game, we must exemplify unity and strength in this national crisis. We need to harness our resources to handle the new crisis carefully. Complacency can be fatal. We must learn lessons from the past and move ahead with renewed vigour and strength. Unlike other natural disasters, this calamity pandemic cannot be controlled by State action alone. NGOs, charity organisations, religious missions etc must come forward to support the efforts of district authorities. Infallible cooperation from the public with a religious adherence to Covid protocols is essential so as to prevent the use of force to ensure the same. We must fight the disaster collectively. Political parties and lawmakers will do better by sparing the pandemic from politics because politics exist only when society exist and society does only if people live.
The writer is a former Additional Chief Secretary of Chhattisgarh. Views expressed are personal