[avatar user=”meihouba” size=”thumbnail” align=”left” link=”file”]PRADIP PHANJOUBAM[/avatar]
Precaution without panic must be how the state must prepare for the possible – in fact if trends worldwide are anything to go by – inevitable encounter with the Coronavirus, the dreaded microbe which causes the disease Covid-19 which first surfaced in Wuhan in China and now is devastating the entire world. So far, the virus seems not to have reached the Northeast region, therefore Manipur, but it can never be said with certainty if it is a matter of absence of the virus or simply it not being detected although already present here in its latent state. In today’s integrated globalised world, where goods and people travel and touch all corners of the world continuously, diseases can also reach anywhere and everywhere in the world within days. Whatever the case is, as the timeless wisdom goes, it would be prudent for us to prepare for the worst although never ceasing to hope for the best. The best scenario would be for the virus never to reach the region and in the meantime for scientists all over the world now frantically working on the nature of the virus to come up with a curative or else a prevent vaccine, or better still both. The worst scenario on the other hand would be that the virus is already within communicable distance from us and would sooner than later begin taking tolls.
Obviously, there would be nothing very much to prepare for the best scenario, except heave a sigh of relief and celebrate the blessings of science. We do hope this is the case. But even if there is a possibility that the virus will not reach us, remote and landlocked as we are, we still have to prepare. In doing so, we obviously also have to face many unusual circumstances and hardship. In the best interest of all, there is no way we can avoid this, and we must indeed cooperate with the government in whatever measures it takes up in combatting this terrible disease. Having said this, it must also be added that the measures the government takes up must be rational and proportionate to the challenge. They must not cause needless hardships and trauma to any section of the society. These measures must most of all have compassion built into them for the poorer sections on whom fortune has not been all too kind, forcing them to live hand to mouth from their meagre daily earnings from the markets. It is general poverty which would distinguish the way the disease hits our region and the way it has hit Italy, China and the US for instance. If the epidemic does arrive here and if it becomes inevitable for the state to shut down completely for a month or two, with each family confined within the precincts of their homes for the entire duration, a scenario not at all impossible having seen what other countries devastated by the virus have had to do, there will be many on the verge of collapse, if not dying, not out of the epidemic but of starvation. While there is time, the government must plan to ensure all who do not have the means to last out the months are ensured at least survival ration all through any lockdown.
Since this is an existential emergency, government funds from other heads can be diverted towards this combat. As a beginning, let all MPs and MLAs commit all their local area development funds towards this battle. Funds earmarked for longer term government projects can also be used to meet this immediate challenge of widespread annihilation of life. If we lose in this short-term battle, promises of success in all other long-term projects can only be pyrrhic. In other words, we cannot simply afford to lose this immediate battle. Let the government or else some reputed charity organisations also prepare to take to crowd funding some of these measures. All those who can afford it must also contribute generously to this fund. We are all in this boat together, if this boat sinks, we all sink – rich, poor, powerful, powerless. No one will be spared.
In preparing for this battle, we need first and foremost to size up the challenge. The drills that the state has gone through and is going through so far have their purposes but those leading the charge must be careful so as not exhaust our combatants before the battle has begun. We are certain that the government has good intention behind all the steps it has been taking up so far, but good intentions alone do not win wars. Instead, it is good strategies which will give us victory in the end. The five days lockdown of our market places till March 25, even while there are no evidences yet of the virus, may be meant as a good precautionary measure spreading awareness, and indeed has helped in instilling the sense of gravity and urgency of the challenge at hand to the people by and large. But if the disease does not reach the state for another month or two, would the markets still remain closed? The possibility is, when the disease does make an appearance, say after two or three months, there would be no energy left amongst the people to fight back. We would have preferred these drills while the virus is still absent to have been a little more paced out. As for instance, there could have been partial lockdown of marketplaces coupled with official prohibitory orders under IPC Section 144 for instance, to thin down the crowds instead of complete lockdown at least until the epidemic begins knocking on our doors. But the battle is not done yet and we have a long way ahead to be worried about. We suggest the government to take heed of the priceless advice of Sun Tzu in his Art of War, that as much as it is important for us to know the enemy to be able to secure victory, we equally need to know our own strengths and weaknesses. The government must hence begin this assessment earnestly. This assessment will have to be two pronged. One is to spread awareness of the disease and ways of its prevention amongst the people. The other is to keep its health infrastructures battle fit and armed with the best and most relevant equipment. Towards this purpose, it must also coordinate with the private health facilities in the state to ensure they are made available and affordable to all, at least for the duration of the battle.
Editor, Imphal Review of Arts and Politics and author