Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

Which way must the COVID battle go from here on
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As the COVID Curve Flattens, Manipur Must Now Prepare to Repair its Damaged Chain of Economic Activities

Manipur’s COVID curve seems to be plateauing now. This was as expected, although with a little more official preparation and public discipline, this could have happened a little earlier, in the process a lot more avoidable trauma and in some cases irreparable losses and griefs, probably could have been saved. This flattening curve was expected, because by now scientists have somewhat sized up the ways of the virus, its gestation period, the way it replicates itself and spreads, its longevity etc. The vital need, they have always told us, was to stop the spread of the virus for its continuance depended solely on the opportunity it is given to continue spreading and multiplying. If this spread was prevented, the virulence of the virus would dwindle and cease after two weeks or so, whether it managed to kill the person it has already infected or not.

It is true the state has been in the devastating throes of this virus’s second wave since about April, and as a response the government began its series of extended curfews, one tailing the other nonstop. The current spell is scheduled to end on June 11, but it can extend again, depending on the situation then. The point is, two months of lockdown should have been enough to arrest the virus conclusively, but there were several factors that complicated the matter. One was the inbound passengers during the time, many of whom kept bringing in the virus from other hotspots in India. There being no justification in trying to stop people wanting to return home in times of crises, regardless of some bigots who think this is an alternative, the only way this could have been prevented was to have all incoming passengers from roadways and airways, closely checked, monitored and quarantined if found positive of the virus. The government was doing this though not without lapses.

The other reason, and probably a bigger one, is the lack of public discipline in fighting this public catastrophe. Despite all the appeals for self-isolation to the extent possible to last out the virus’s lifespan with it spreading and proliferating, there were still people holding private parties and gathering, as if not keeping by the standard operational procedures, SOPs, in the fight against virus was just a formality, and compliance to which was important only to the extent of not being caught breaking it by the police. There is of course a large section of the society with no assured income while confined at home, and were even before the pandemic living on the edge of the poverty line. For them the situation would have been, it is imaginable, either go out and risk contracting the virus, or else put their entire families facing the horror of starvation. Their coming out to look for work though still undesirable is understandable. The government should have therefore taken care of his section in advance and arranged for reaching at least survival ration to them during this extended spell of COVID curfews. For one, this is the humanitarian, and for another, it would have ensured better compliance to the COVID curfew and SOP of the government.

There is another aspect to this fight which was not paid the attention it deserved until its need began to be felt desperately. Indiscriminate application of the home isolation norm of those who have already tested positive was not the best of idea, considering the living conditions of most in Manipur. Living spaces of most especially in urban homes are small therefore shared, with little or no room for effective segregation of any of its members. This being so, entire families become positive on account of one of them becoming positive became the trend. Under the circumstance, if dedicated COVID hospitals were impossible to be set up at such short notice, the government should have at least set up in advance more COVID isolation and care centres with at least the basic creature comforts and safety taken care of. This did not have to be by any elaborate or expensive project. The state has many different existing traditional infrastructures and public institutions, for instance, in the valley area each leikai has a youth club or equivalent with community owned club buildings. In recent times, here are also community halls have also been added to these. Likewise in the hill villages, there are such community based common infrastructures. These could have been ramped up with relatively small investment than building new and exclusive centres. The investment would not have gone waste after its immediate purpose have been served too. This would have also made partnership with these local youth clubs and bodies easier and more fruitful for it would have involved the latter much more intimately. There is no gainsaying that these partnerships are important in tackling any social issue, and what we are faced with today is also very much a social issue apart from being a health and medical one.

As the graph of the second wave begin to plateau and show signs of a downward trend, without ever losing focus on the possibility of newer waves of the pandemic, as well as complications related to it, hitting our societies once again, the government will also have to begin putting its mind on how to revive the local economy. It is not going to be easy or quick, but there is no other way than to do it. Failing in this can amount to inviting disaster, probably as catastrophic as the pandemic. It will also be much more long term, with scary social consequences that poverty and unemployment can bring. Without even experts telling us, it is quite obvious that this challenge will have to be met in a layered manner. For those left staring at the immediate crisis of starvation, the remedy will have to be relief measures and expenditures. For those spared of this trauma but are still faced with the problem of livelihood depletion or loss, the remedy must come in the form of a stimulus economic package, calibrated to cater to the needs of different sectors of the economy, aimed also at repairing the chain of interrelatedness of economic activities of all these sectors. Easy small loans to the deserving self-employed, similar but more elaborate sops for small businesses with job generation capacities, all aimed at invigorating the market will have to be the approach.

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