[avatar user=”meihouba” size=”thumbnail” align=”left” link=”file” target=”_blank”]PRADIP PHANJOUBAM[/avatar]
It is reasonably to believe that Manipur is for now coronavirus free. In the one month of lockdown the state has seen so far, no new cases other than the two who returned with the virus from COVID epicentres outside. When the nationwide lockdown from March 24 midnight came about, Manipur was already in five day curfew starting March 21, stated to be related to the virus but was probably also in anticipation of public unrest following the choice of Manipur’s titular king, Leishemba Sanajaoba as the BJP candidate for the Rajya Sabha election, then scheduled for March 26 but has hence been postponed. From what is known of the virus, somebody who has contracted it would have to begin showing symptoms of COVID-19, the disease it causes, within its incubation period of 14 days, unless the person is asymptomatic. But in 30 days, even if there were asymptomatic carriers amidst us, the people they spread the virus to would have begun showing COVID-19 symptoms. None of these thankfully happened, therefore the confidence that the graph of its spread has been successfully flattened in the state. This being so, though restrictions on free movement of public is still in place, since April 21 some relaxations have been introduced. Hopefully, by May 3, when the nationwide lockdown is scheduled to end, this confidence will have grown and there would be further relaxations.
Does this mean the battle is done and life will be back to normal? No, not by any means is this so. However, it does mean that though the war is still very much on, an important battle has been won. Not letting the virus spread beyond the two known COVID positive cases was indeed a victory, thanks largely to the courage and commitment of our frontline fighters of health workers, but the victory is also importantly, a psychological one. Crises bring out the true selves of any given society. And so, when the first two persons COVID positive persons showed up, different facets of the character of our society also came to the fore. When the case of the first patient became known, the air was filled a mix of panic and malicious vilification. Like snails, many retreated into their shells, putting up barriers on approach roads to their colonies, using profanities to curse the unfortunate patient, wishing the person and her family death etc. When the second victim showed up, because he belonged to a particular religion, it was the familiar disease of imported hate mongering political communalism that gripped the place. Not everybody was like this though, and these obnoxious behaviours were restricted to the most vile, profane and selfish section of our society. While they were on their cowardly hate campaigns, all of us also witnessed with pride what Manipur is gifted with an abundance – brave and generous young men and women, complimenting the courage of our health workers, leaving fear behind to come out and raise resources to help the needy in their localities to lessen their trauma of lasting out the shutdown.
What the state has just won is only the first battle and by no means the war. The flatten curve is not the end of the struggle. It has only given us some extra time and leisure to put our heads together and prepare strategies for more battles ahead. Now that we know the virus is no longer in our midst, the strategy for prevention would obviously have to be about not allowing the virus to enter the state, and if it does enter, to not allow it to do so undetected. If its entry is detected, we already know how to handle and defeat it, but if it comes in undetected, the disease spread can go out of control. That would be a disaster. Quite obviously, the state cannot remain sealed off forever and at some point, it will have to open up again. In a regulated and monitored manner, freight vehicles traffic has already been allowed to resume. Sooner than later trans state border movement of people will also have to be allowed. Most urgently, there are several thousand from the state including students, migrant job seekers, patients in seeking treatments in specialised hospitals, religious pilgrims and more, stuck outside and many are reported to be in dire straits at this moment. They would be waiting to rush back to the state soon as the nationwide lockdown relaxes enough to make them travel. They cannot under no circumstance be denied entry, but they simply cannot be allowed to go back into their respective communities directly without first being screened through a quarantine process. In the time that the state has bought itself by flattening the curve, the government must plan how this stupendous challenge is going to be met. If stranded Manipuris seeking entry into the state after the lockdown number 30,000, would the state have the facilities to keep them under quarantined observation for the specified period? Many suggestions have been coming forth from different sections in public discussions and media. These include, requisitioning hotels at mutually agreed rates; revamping infrastructure of existing government schools to make them reasonably fit and comfortable for temporary group residences; prepare a stadium for the same purpose etc. Besides all these, what is also vital is for the government to upgrade the health infrastructures at roadway entry points to the state as well. These will be importantly at Mao Gate, Jessami, Jiribam and Moreh. These health facilities too must be given proper equipment and protective gears for frontline health workers. None of these infrastructural investments now will go waste even after the COVID danger has been overcome. Let all of us and the government realise that we simply cannot let our guards down, but we must also not allow ourselves to be reduced to the paranoid and selfish cowards many have shown themselves to be in the face of crisis.
Editor, Imphal Review of Arts and Politics and author