Ever since the first case of Covid-19 was reported in a 55-year old in China’s Hubei province on 17/11/2019, the virus, SARS-CoV-2, belonging to the Coronavirus family, causing the dreaded disease has been holding the world hostage by infecting 1,202,242, and killing 64,729, as of April 4 2020, and counting. The virus, which had caused diseases like SARS, MERS, common cold and influenza-like syndromes earlier was quick to cross borders after it’s death dance over China, where 81,669 were infected and 3,329 killed, and proceeded to have countries like Italy and Spain, where 1,24,632 were infected and 15,362 were killed respectively. Currently, the USA is the hotspot where the viral mayhem is being repeated, infecting 3,11,357 and killing 8,438, with the counts rising exponentially at the time of writing. The WHO declared COVID-19 a public health concern of international concern on 30 January 2020
India with her gargantuan population of 1,387,297,452, bursting at her seams looked relatively spared. but the country too caught the attention of the marauder. The number of Indians infected has jumped 50%, over 48 hours (April 3-4 2020) to 2069, and killing 75, with 42% of the infected falling between 21- 40 years of age, representing a fearful change in viral demography in India. But this is no time for India to relax as she sits on a huge populace, living in thickly populated and aqualid conditions, where the virus could set off a cauldron of death and devastation. Though India’s curve is still flatter than that of the current epicenter-the USA, it is far steeper than that of Singapore and South Korea, the two nations which have seemingly tamed the virus through focused surveillance, screening, and effective use of masks. India’s case count is now roughly double than it was four days ago. At this trajectory, the number of cases could read a staggering 10,000 over the next ten days. No state seems to be spared. Maharashtra (280), Kerala (238), Tamil Nadu (227), and Rajasthan (105), are the most affected. Fortunately, majority of cases are those who have arrived from countries most affected like the UAE, Europe and the USA, and their primary contacts. No spread of the dreaded viral disease been reported within the community in India, which could be devastating. To prevent spread of SARS-CoV-2 within the community, the following basic, yet important measures were strictly implemented by the central and state governments:
- Social Distancing-To maintain a distance of at least 1 meter between individuals,
- To wash hands frequently for at least 20 seconds, with soap and water or alcohol-based sanitizers,
- To avoid touching the face unnecessarily,
- To avoid spitting and nose-blowing publicly, and to cough and sneeze into a handkerchief, or shirt sleeve,
- To quarantine people with travel history to affected nations, and their contacts for at least 14 days, preferably at home
- To test every person with history of travel to affected countries and their contacts for the virus
It is exactly for the purpose of maintaining social distancing, seemingly the most vital cog in the wheel to halt the viral march, that the Prime Minister, through astute foresightedness and statesmanship requested India’s burgeoning population to stay indoors through a ‘Janata Curfew’ on 22 March 2020. Indians, who have been reasonably spared by the virus, but have been fearful of the death-grip it could have over them, responded overwhelmingly to the Prime Minister’s call. The entire country, the second most populous after China stood still to limit the viral spread at least for a day.
Encouraged by his countrymen’s response to an unprecedented call, the Prime Minister proceeded to impose a 3-week national lockdown starting 24 March 2020. He knew it called for huge sacrifices by the nation to escape a potentially huge national catastrophe. Essential services were spared. All modes of transport were suspended. But, the lockdown, which was welcomed by India’s medical fraternity, and which caught the attention of other nations came at a price. Sacrifices that needed to be made were tremendous. With vehicular traffic suspended, people, concluding those returning home after night duty were left stranded. Sale of alcohol was stopped in states like Kerala, which led to unprecedented social challenges. Alcoholics as part of alcohol withdrawal committed suicide. Migrant laborers were left unemployed and penniless, rendering them anarchist and violent. People commuting to work were required to produce ID cards and self-declarations to policemen who stopped and peeped menacingly into vehicles which were allowed to ply for ‘unavoidable reasons’. Vehicles carrying foodstuff were not allowed to cross interstate borders. Shop shelves ran dry, unable to meet basic requirements. Indian economy, already in doldrums, was left in tatters. Frontline Healthcare providers in the battle against the virus suffered from dearth of Personal Protection Equipment, especially masks. Equipment crucial to treat the critical like ventilators were in short supply. Yet, Indians soldiered on, most of them in self home isolation, which, to them became national calling.
So far so good. India seemed to be on the right track in her ‘battle against the virus’. But dramatics and theatrics that defied scientific logic and commonsense unfortunately made their inevitable foray into a nation’s battle against an unseen but murderous enemy on the prowl. The Prime Minister, exhorting people to observe the Janata curfew also requested people to honor healthcare workers helping to quell the viral attack by making sound in whatever ways possible. People responded to this seemingly absurd ritual wholeheartedly. They clapped hands from crowded terraces, balconies and streets. The more enthusiastic ones clanged metal utensils with metal utensils, dancing to the rhythm, throwing caution and social distancing to the winds. The curfew would have achieved it’s purpose but for this noisy drama on the streets. the Prime minister surely stepped the Lakshman Rekha to trespass into meaningless dramatics that killed not a single virus. Instead, he had people throng together for meaningless and rather passionate theatrics that lacked scientific temper. people who had expressed gratitude to healthcare workers on 22 March were promptly back to what they love doing the most- that of attacking healthcare workers including doctors on duty against the viral onslaught, most noticeably in Indore! So much so for ‘gratitude’, a commodity with extremely very short shelf-life!
On 3 April, 2020, the Prime Minister came back on Television to urge the people, on this occasion to dispel the darkness that the sub-millimetric virus had plunged India into by lighting candles, or whatever produced light for 9 minutes on 5 April at 9 PM after switching off lights in their homes.
This outrageous exhortation had people pull their hair out. They had placed themselves before televisions expecting the Prime Minister, who seemed to know what he was doing through commendable farsightedness, statesmanship and imagination using his appeal with the masses who had voted him to power on huge majority on two consecutive occasions. They expected him to announce measures to provide the economy a badly-needed prop, to encourage healthcare facilities and frontline healthcare personnel equipping them with more ventilators and PPEs, to replenish fast-depleting shop shelves, measures to take irate and restless migrant workers into confidence, to announce the fate about the national lockdown, which was rumored to be extended, and to end inter-state skirmishes, like that between Karnataka and Kerala over letting vehicles carrying essential commodities cross borders, to arouse a somnolent PDS, to ensure pensions and doles reached the eligible on time, to pat policemen and armed forces working in difficult times and conditions, on their backs. Instead he asked Indians to light candles. The virus, whose march couldn’t be stopped by sound surely cannot be stopped in its track by light, of all things. The Prime minister known to frolic in showmanship, dramatics and theatrics that defies logic seem to have fallen for his weaknesses when India badly needed a leader, prudent and scientifically oriented, one who is sensible enough to realize that this virus which has the world by the scruff of the neck will not bow down neither to light nor to sound!