How successful has Manipur been in its battle against COVID-19 so far? It has to be said this has been a mixed front. We did see some proactivity on the part of those at the helm in acquiring and setting up of medical oxygen generation plants, setting up more COVID care centres etc., to make up for its own complacency, lethargy and short-sightedness in not having made these preparations earlier during the lull between the first and second wave of the pandemic. Had these preparations been made earlier, probably a lot of the tragic fatalities we have and are still witnessing on a daily basis could have been saved. Again, while the government has been commendably appealing for all to participate in this common fight, quite contradictorily, it has also forbidden local youth clubs as well as other individuals and non-governmental bodies to participate in the COVID relief efforts, quite obviously for fear of opposition parties and their support bases gaining future electoral grounds. It is nothing less than outrageous that those in the government can speak with two tongues on such a grave matter, and still think they can eat the cake and have it too. When there are disasters, they cannot say responsibility must be shared by all, and when there are credits to be claimed, to seek monopoly over them. The disease knows no politics, religion, ethnicity, sex and now age, unlike in the first wave which spared the young.
Just as politicians should not be thinking of image building and political gains in the midst of this public health tragedy, nobody should also be thinking of, or be allowed to, make profit out of the public’s misery. Why then were some private care centres and hospitals allowed to charge exorbitant rates for their COVID care beds, prohibiting poorer sections from coming to them, but also putting those who barely managed to afford their cares into ruins when they recovered or else landing their families in deep debts if they succumbed. To make a financial killing out of a public catastrophe is not just unbecoming but also unethical. This is a time when those in healthcare businesses should have been willing and eager to run on no-profit-mode till the crisis is stemmed, and if they are little better endowed from past profits, even agree to use up part of their reserves to subsidise unfortunate and desperate patients. But such generosity of spirit it seems is not part of the character of most of the more privileged people in this state. Even in this time of great crisis and suffering, the narrow narcissism which makes individuals see only personal gains even if it means unfair advantages or the condemnations of others, remains the ruling motive of most. Contrast this attitude with the ways of reputed health volunteers like Medicines Sans Frontiers (also known as Doctors Without Borders), who are ever eager to fly into any health crisis spots in the world, including Manipur when AIDS was a menace, to offer their voluntary services to alleviate afflicted people from their miseries. It would have been good if such instincts overflowed amongst us naturally in our society’s time of crisis, but it is also the duty of the government to impose suitable regulations to ensure the opposite instinct of greed and avarice do not overshadow all humanity. This lack of order and selfishness is seen at every level, and is loudly evident in a viral video now on social media which shows attendants of patients in a hospital scrambling and grabbing oxygen cylinders when a truckload of fresh consignment arrived at the hospital gate.
These are some of the immediate challenges, but what about the future? The population will have to pick themselves up from where this pandemic leaves them and move forwards but will all of them be capable of doing this. Many are already crippled, lamed and even orphaned, so what must be done for them should be a question that the government must begin searching for an answer even now as the immediate crisis is being fought. It will truly have to be a duel fought with both hands as the saying goes, and difficult though this may be, there are no other ways. Until the entire crisis is stemmed and resolved, the fight will remain characterised as a do or die situation. Again, in this continuing fight to secure the future, we need the same generosity of spirit that has been visibly missing so far. It may be helpful to try and emulate Tata group of companies which promised continued payment of salaries to next of kin of employees who perished in the pandemic till the next of kin attained the age of 60. It is unlikely any of the enterprises in the state will have the means to implement similar policies, but they must be encouraged to do what is within their means. The government of course must come out with realistic stimulation packages for the state’s economy which will help small enterprises which have been mauled and left gasping for breath to revive, as well as to ensure those below poverty line are not left with no hope whatsoever for themselves and their children. It must of course look after its employees, but also look beyond, for it is a government for all the people not just its immediate employees. It must also shed the myopia of looking to the next election only and think of the common welfare that is beyond electoral politics.
The old saying that in the long run we are all dead, could not be sounding more chilling than now. Although it is a certainty that all of us will have to die one day in the future, life’s purpose is to live till it is no longer possible and also to ensure continuity of life by not jeopardising the condition for its perpetual cycle through procreation. Which is why, making sure the present crisis is defeated so that our common future is not damaged too badly, especially for the sake of the younger generation should be the paramount concern of all. We have to admit there have been damages already caused, and the hurt, although the extent of this damage is far from uniform. As for instance, those in the protected cocoon of government services should find it easier to pick themselves up after the crisis and begin life afresh, although many would have, like all else, suffered personal losses of loved ones. But this section is, as we know, only about one lakh amongst the state’s approximate 30 lakh population. Of the remaining 29 lakhs, except for a small percentage of business owners and upmarket professionals who have enough savings or whose services are still in demand, perhaps even enhanced by the crisis, a majority would have lost their livelihoods, or else their incomes depleted or vanished, so much so that even the prospect of making a new beginning after the crisis is going to be extremely challenging for them. Some are likely to end up pauperised and in despair, as a matter of fact many indeed already are in this condition. The government must begin the preparation to deal with such a scenario, and formulate a bailout package for the economy so as to minimise the trauma of this tragedy we are exposed to.
It is not going to be easy, but this battle will have to be fought, to repeat what I began with, keeping in mind two main objectives. One is to defeat the immediate threat of the pandemic continuing to take tolls. It is important to remember here that if our present is destroyed, we will have no future as well. We also have to keep in mind that the more the virus is allowed to remain, replicate and spread, the more likelihood of its mutating further to pose new problems. As scientists have told us, with each mutation, the nature and virulence of the virus will change, not necessarily always making it more dangerous for it can also become tamer and more manageable, but we cannot take the risk. Humankind’s safest bet is to put a full stop not a comma to the spread or mutation of this pathogen and we all need to pitch in our efforts towards achieving this end, and this we can do best by going along with what scientist know about the virus and the ways to avoid it. In the pandemic’s one and half years of mayhem, we have also seen a profusion of literature on the virus and its nature from authoritative scientific sources, although there have also been tendencies for obscurantist shamanism, superstitions and outlandish conspiracy theories to take centre stage. In a nutshell, the winning formula acknowledged and accepted by the scientific world is, vaccination, and while this is happening, breaking the chain of the spread of the virus by sticking to COVID appropriate behaviours. This will have to be alongside giving proper medical attention to those unfortunate to have contracted the disease.
Editor, Imphal Review of Arts and Politics and author