Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

COVID chain seemingly easy to break but difficult to do so on the ground

No Excuses for Non-Compliance to Battleplan Should be Tolerated, for the Alternate Reality is as Grim as Death

The manner the story of the Novel Coronavirus 2019 which causes the fatal disease now known as COVID19 has been unfolding reads like a science fiction horror novel. Like all viruses, be they the most dangerous or the least harmful, this one too can and has mutated several times. The mutated version technically termed B.1.617, which is now rampaging India in what has come to be called India’s second wave is just one evidence. There have been other variants in other countries, including in the UK, South Africa and Brazil. The B.1.617 strain now seems one of the most virulent and as we are witnessing, causing mayhem in the entire India. It was always known right from the time the virus began devastating the world for the first time that the longer this virus was allowed to spread and circulate, the bigger the potential for it to undergo mutations and emerge in ever newer avatars, and that prophesy is now proving to be tragically self-fulfilling, especially in India where a second wave of the pandemic is sweeping uncontrollably across the country, bringing tragic consequences to the economy, regional and national, but also to individual families. It is already clear even now that when this nightmare ends and people are able gather their composure to celebrate the freedom from the scourge, there will be many we have known and loved, missing. No gainsaying now, any victory won is going to be moderated by the grief of irreplaceable loss. If this devastation is allowed to continue unchecked for much longer, even the ultimate victory, as and when it happens, may prove pyrrhic and meaningless, as the peace won then could very much resemble the cliched peace of the graveyard.

There cannot be a bigger reason than this to compel every one of us to contribute our mite in the battle so that together we are able to defeat the adversary at the soonest possible in whatever way the leadership of the state and nation decides is the way forward, and what common sense based on science informs us are the safe ways to prevent the virus from spreading further. This also of course means we have to have a leadership who repose faith in science and are able to lead the people out of the crisis situations, and not leaders who are leaders who are dipped in superstitions and are solely leaders for possessing the means and knack of winning elections. Indeed, the difference between the two always become stark in the times of public crisis, as it is doing so now. In this battle, let us remember the wisdom that each one of us will be safe when every one of us is safe, which obviously means when the virus is completely eradicated or neutralised. The individual responsibility on all of us then is to ensure that we do not become a part of the virus chain of spread, and instead each of us is a break in the chain now already active so that ultimately the chain withers and disintegrates.

India’s leadership must now have the courage to admit the missteps and miscalculations of the pandemic right from the very start, so that with humility they can take corrective steps rather than continue to try defend those missteps. Unfortunately, this does not seem the temperament of the current leadership, and we are witnessing the same miscalculations born out of a misplaced sense of arrogance even now. From the time the presence of the virus and the fatal sickness it becan causing in Wuhan city in Hubei Province of China was admitted by the Chinese authorities in December 2019 (even though a Chinese doctor had tried to warn of it in mid-November), India too should have taken precautions. This is especially so after some Indian students in Kerala returning from China in January also were confirmed to have come back with the virus. Only three months later in March did the government swing into action, declaring a sudden lockdown with barely four days warning, sending panic among migrant daily wage earning workers in India’s big cities, but this is old story.

The first wave was luckily not so lethal, but after it was somewhat brought under control by the end of 2020, despite warning of a likely second wave by scientists, the country’s leadership took little precautions, allowing a weeklong Hindu festival of Kumbh Mela in which several lakhs devotees thronged the River Ganga at Hardwar city, even after the new coronavirus strain B.1.617 began wreaking havoc in India. Elections to state Assembly were not only allowed to be held in five states, including an unprecedented 8-phase one in Bengal, but huge election rallies were held unmindful of the devastating tolls COVID was already taking by then. Again, in the months after the relatively mild first wave was brought somewhat under control, no effort to revamp the public health care system to make them fit and prepared for any fresh wave was seen, and now the country is caught on the wrong foot, with its population gasping for breath, dying in the thousands on a daily basis, most for the lack of medical oxygen. This is where the country is right now.

But, whatever the mistakes that have happened, there can be no excuse not to act now, for the virus is not going to take any excuses from anybody. It will continue to do what it is designed to do – infect and take casualties. It is indeed a do or die situation for all of us, and we have no choice but to fight back and win. In this fightback, it should be clear to every by now that only science can help. By now virologists around the world have come out with detailed structure and behaviour of the virus as well as its increasing number of variants. They have also given us the way to fight against it, the most important of which is to break its chain of spread by not coming to contact with it. Hence wearing mask and social distancing have been recommended as the best weapons by experts. This is not an impossible task therefore let us keep by these norms to all extent, and also abide by more official standard operational procedures, SOP, modelled on what are prescribed by authoritative health institutions, national and international, beginning from the World Health Organisation, WHO to the Indian Council of Medical Research, ICMR. To reiterate the point, the goal is not just about not falling ill, but on the larger canvas, it is equally about breaking the chain of the spread of the virus. What needs to be understood is, anybody getting infected is a misfortune for the person, but equally in thus getting himself or herself infected, what the person has forsaken is his or her responsibility to the community, of contributing to the effort to break of this vicious chain of the virus’s spread. So let the false bravado of individual fearlessness be abandoned and instead responsibility to the community be embraced. If fearlessness is to be proven, then let those eager to prove it volunteer to be in the frontline of this battle for duties that befit the skill set of each.

Meanwhile, if we agree that what we are faced with is akin to a war, as during any war we also have to agree this is an emergency, where absolute discipline is mandatory, even if this means sacrificing certain liberties till the war is over conclusively.  We cannot at this junction complain of schools and colleges, or offices and business establishments remaining closed if this is deemed necessary and is recommended by virologists and health experts. This may be a bad and tough choice, but if they have to be resorted to as an emergency measure, this on the justification that the alternative reality is as grim as death. Of course, the government will have to look for ways to ensure to the extent possible nobody starves to death and so mobilise its resources to reach essential items to the population, especially daily wage earners and other weaker sections. To take the war analogy further, during any war, noncompliance to mandated war discipline are punishable, and for the crimes of desertion from duty by frontline workers (soldiers), punishment are even more severe. Indeed, we all know that during wars, insubordination, desertion or mutiny by soldiers can even deserved even the death sentence, and understandably too, for a war is a do or die situation. Difficult or no, we all have no option but to do whatever needs to be done and overcome the threat, or else perish. So let’s for once do it together and overcome.

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