The much-needed decision of PM Modi to impose nation-wide total lockdown for three weeks deserves kudos from all Indians. In his address on 24th March, he dwelled at length on how ‘social distancing’ is the only option for India to avert the severe consequences of the spread of the disease. He explained the benefits of the social distancing in simple words for impact on all the citizens – from illiterate to well-educated and from poor to rich. His emphasis on how this new order was like ‘curfew’ suggested not only the need for compliance but also indicated that non-compliance would attract punishment.
PM Modi clearly mentioned that medical services would be available to all and assured that the state governments would make all efforts to ensure sufficient supply of essential commodities. He also conveyed to the public through his tweets that there would be no shortages, hence no panic buying was necessary. The current order for three weeks was necessary to break the cycle of contagion through social distancing. This is needed to ensure that ‘Fomites’ — epidemiologists use this term widely –may not act as agent provocateur for spreading Covid-19. It must be understood that fomites can carry infections and anything including clothes, utensils, newspapers, mobile phones, front-desk of a shop, packaged items, ATM machines and debit/credit cards, and even doorknobs, buttons in a lift, hand-rest of an escalator and furniture can be fomites. The degree of risk posed by fomites depends on how long does novel coronavirus survives on these objects. The currency exchanges should be avoided through payments using apps on mobiles as far as possible. Banks are open for banking operations and utmost precautions are needed while handling currency notes both by customers and bank officers. Doctors are rightly emphasising washing of hands and sanitisation of the above objects. This should be strictly followed. This is how China and South Korea did not allow the further spread of the corona virus. Significantly, on the 24th China opened the two-month lockdown in Hubei province except the epicentre Wuhan.
The Centre and all state governments are taking praiseworthy measures to mitigate the financial problems of lower classes. The daily wage earners have been provided with some financial assistance in most states. Private companies and contractors have been requested not to deduct wages during this period. The PM’s appeal for little generosity from the landlords and household employing domestic help showed his sensitivity for poor people in this time. It is satisfying to see that this appeal has the desired impact. Ration is being supplied either free of cost or at highly subsidised rates. All the state governments, private companies and even individuals are doing a commendable job. They deserve our appreciation. It is noteworthy that even PM Modi’s detractors have agreed that he has handled the crisis very well. Praise has also come from foreign dignitaries. There is neither scope for politicisation of the issue nor defiance of the order.
However, there are serious challenges ahead. First, some people have not understood the need for maintaining social distances. ICMR in a study has pointed out that through this method we can reduce the spread of the disease by 62%. Those violating should be given deterrent punishment as this a crime against the whole society. A strict vigilance needs to be kept on them. Second, the initial problem of supplies of essential commodities should be ensured as panic buying has already started. An efficient system of supplies of essential items should be put in place. Without this, social distancing cannot be implemented. Third, the politicisation of the issue by some spokespersons of the Opposition on electronic media needs to be brought to an end. Finding faults with the government has no place in the current situation. Suggestions are welcome and should be made to improve the situation. Fourth, the rumours and disinformation spread through social media have the potentials to create hysteria in society for no reason. Fifth, the reports of harassment of those who are working to fight against the disease is highly regrettable. This has to be tackled effectively and severe punishment should be awarded to such persons.
We should also be prepared for some negative impact on the economy. We have several lost man-hours. Post-crisis, more than half of the population would require financial aid from the government and the entrepreneurs would need financial subsidy. The small and medium industrial houses would need financial compensation for the loss. The government would need to find resources for such demands. The Indian economy has a large base and hopefully, it would recover in a short time like earlier periods of global recessions. The current efforts to counter the spread of disease requires support from all. Cooperation of all, strong will power and focus on hygiene are necessary to avert the unimaginable consequences. This is not the question of
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.