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Hoping Against Hope

"What we as the human race need is not to closely guard borders between countries but the border between the human world and the virus-sphere. There is no denying that we have wrested this planet, exploited every single piece of it. Virus after virus is constantly evolving due to genetic mutations and global warming. What humanity needs is a coordinated, thoughtful, human, and scientific strategy and unity to fight the global epidemic and other looming crises."

Sketch- Neha Rana-
Sketch- Neha Rana-

As the novel coronavirus spreads across the country, it poses a critical question: Can India’s people, political parties, institutions, and government collectively rise to the occasion to defeat a once-in-a-generation crisis?

This global pandemic is testing our political, financial, social, and moral fabric. Because more than the deadly virus itself, what is deadly is the lack of leadership that we face today. The US and Europe are scrambling to contain the virus despite having been some of the most powerful, resourceful, and economically/favourably placed countries. This only tells about the sheer amount of difficulties poor nations in Africa and Asia are going through.

In India, we all looked up to Prime Minister Modi for his leadership. But his address to the nation and Janta Curfew which would have sent a message to people to stay home and adhere to safety instructions turned out to be counter-productive.

Let’s reflect for a moment how it played out. PM Modi urged people to stay indoors for 14 hours and then show gratitude for our doctors and nurses by clapping and beating utensils. But what people did was to gather in huge numbers and celebrate. One feels no satisfaction in the debacle of ‘Janta Curfew’. But this fatal flaw of the Modi model could kill millions and cost lives. The crowd celebrating ‘Janta Curfew’ could have dramatically increased the transmission of a killer virus. Needless to say, the virus is politically impartial and unbiased.

The jubilant show was not an unpredictable event. ‘Janta Curfew’ like ‘Swacch Bharat’ and ‘Selfie With Daughter’ model banked on a superficial spectacle of people's participation, refusing to invest in education about the actual principles involved. People took it as Modi’s way of converting everything into a grand show of support which would miraculously chase away Corona - and they gave it to him. I would not blame people but leaders who discourage people from understanding principles & and indulge in mob mentality to promote their interests.

What We Need To Do:

India faces impending peril on two equally disturbing problems- the Corona epidemic and economic slowdown. Financial markets have lost a third of their value in less than a month. Companies are preparing to lay off millions of workers while pleading for a government bailout. At the helm of it all is a Prime Minister who rose to power with a divisive brand of politics and a reliance on his gut instinct. He now faces the greatest test of his government — a viral outbreak that requires bipartisan cooperation, verbal precision, and reliance on bureaucratic expertise.

Prime Minister Modi should reach out to opposition parties and seek their support to fight this epidemic, assure the masses, and unite the country.

What are the quick steps that the government should take to ease the distress?

We will have to ask ourselves this question- who are the worst hit? The front line health professionals, ASHA workers, daily wage earners, the women, factory workers, artists, freelancers, and a lot more people who have constantly been failed by the system.

An integrated approach, which includes a comprehensive economic and relief package that provides for medical equipment, ventilators, cash transfers to daily wage earners, uninterrupted supply of food grains to people below the poverty line and a drastic measure to set up test centers, will be no less than a magical solution.

Some of these and other steps could be:

Empathy, Solidarity and Real Resource driven Help

The government should take action against religious and political leaders with mass influence who are spreading superstitious and unscientific remedies to fight Corona. Use facts, logic, persuasion, empathy combined with a relief package to make it possible for all to actually practice Physical Isolation and self-discipline.

Tap Social Schemes and Announce Economic Package

We are not paying enough attention to this dimension of the Corona crisis. Lockdowns and physical distancing are crucial in fighting the virus, but it can wreck livelihoods, especially of the poor.

Governments must step up efforts to provide safety nets until the crisis abates. To do that, the existing schemes such as pensions, the Public Distribution System (PDS), midday meals, and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), among others should be expanded, more budgetary provisions should be announced, the biometric system to distribute food grains be relaxed, pensions and compensations to be transferred to bank accounts to keep for dual purpose- help the poor and keep up the cash flow in the economy.

Equip Hospitals and Front-Line Services:

To understand why we should be so alarmed and what may be coming next, the public and the governments need to start paying attention to a whole other set of numbers:

How many ventilators do we have in this country? How many hospital beds? Consider the ventilators. For those severely ill with a respiratory disease like covid-19, ventilators are a matter of life and death because they allow patients to breathe when they cannot on their own.

Hospitals are not able to buy more medical ventilators because of the high cost for what may be only a short-term spike in demand from the coronavirus epidemic. Mechanical ventilators, which help patients breathe or breathe for them, are considered critical to the effort to contain the worst effects of the pandemic and avoid a crisis like the one Italy is facing.

Further, doctors and nurses are pleading for more medical equipment as doctors resort to using homemade masks. The government should ensure the availability of test kits to test as many people as possible to determine the true scope of the virus.

Additionally, making 'test' free will be an effective measure to curb the spread. The governments should allow private labs to conduct the test and compensate them for the charges. We have so much to learn from South Korea and the way it is fighting the crisis.

How South Korea is dealing with the pandemic?

Its strategy was not the full lockdown that China employed or even the widespread restrictions that the U.S. and Europe have implemented. Instead, it focused on swift, widespread testing and contact tracing, our Interpreter columnist writes.

In the week after its first reported case, South Korea moved rapidly, eventually opening 600 testing centres and keeping health workers safe by minimizing contact. Once someone tested positive, officials meticulously traced their movements using security camera footage, credit card records, even GPS data from their cars and cell phones.

Winning the War Against Misinformation

We would need to understand that the current pandemic is not a new crisis that the human race is facing. For instance, in the 14th century, there were no airplanes and cruise ships, and yet the Black Death spread from East Asia to Western Europe in little more than a decade and It killed between 75 million and 200 million people. Similarly, in 1918 a particularly virulent strain of flu managed to spread within a few months to the remotest corners of the world. It infected half a billion people – more than a quarter of the human species. It is estimated that the flu killed 5% of the population of India.

However, in the 21st-century epidemics kill a far smaller proportion of humans than in any previous time since the Stone Age. Why?

Illustration- Neha Rana
Sketch- Neha Rana-

This is because the best defense humans have against the pandemic is not isolation – it is information. The only way we can come out of this pandemic is to rely upon and encourage the right information and locate, report and discourage the misinformation.

The Collective Responsibility:

Every day each one of us makes many decisions. Even the tiniest of our collective decisions have an enormous impact on our collective future. Therefore, in the end, it depends on the inhabitants of this country to choose and decide the future for all of us. This includes asking the right questions and holding governments accountable. This includes practicing discipline and resilience. This includes practicing self-care and being kind to your neighbours, the service staff, and everything else around you.

Guard Border

In the fight against Corona Virus, countries across the world are shutting borders, grounding flights and travel, imposing lockdown, and curfew. But is it what the human race needs to do when the fight is not between nations but human versus virus?

As Yuval Noah Harari suggests: "What we as the human race need is not to closely guard borders between countries but the border between the human world and the virus-sphere. There is no denying that we have wrested this planet, exploited every single piece of it. Virus after virus is constantly evolving due to genetic mutations and global warming. What humanity needs is a coordinated, thoughtful, human, and scientific strategy and unity to fight the global epidemic and other looming crises."


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