Covid Appropriate Behaviour Need of Hour
From the emerging developments it may be apparent that the role of Science & Technology in the thirteen month long battle combating Covid-19 appears to have been subdued and the psychological dimensions seem to be assuming a greater role. Subsequent to the first anniversary of the Janata Curfew, we have a choice of six to seven vaccines as opposed to none earlier.
Intrusion of ‘Foreign’ Variants
Disturbing development nevertheless is that confirmed cases are creeping up; positivity & CFR rates are shooting and active cases are multiplying. Doubling rate too is being recorded yet again, within a month only against the backdrop of 771 Covid variants as per Times of India. Hindustan Times has presented a very grim picture of Maharastra on the one hand and’ Bindas ‘ state of Punjab on the other. While former is having 206 cases of Calfornian Novel , 56 of U.K.type,5 of South African one and1 of Brazilian variant, Punjab has been reported to be having only two:336 cases of UK & 2 of Californian types.
Prevailing Variants Pose More Threats
Apparently, new variants, namely British, South African or the Latin American could be major irritants elsewhere in World, but in a vast, over populated and “hurrying “country ,such as, India, Covid Appropriate behaviour pattern to the prevailing virus is very much called for.
Interestingly, one of the joint studies of AIIMS has indicated that Common cold virus may have saved many Indians thus far. It adds further that cross reactive T cells from the Corona virus that cause Common Cold MAY NOT protect from Covid but by responding to SARS-CoV-2 Protein, they may restrict severity of disease. Also, immunity out of Indian food habits may have been a contributing factor.
Whatever it may be, longer resistance or distance cannot always be enforced or guaranteed by the Executive.
Cautious and Careful
Having applied polite force or measures of Lock Down, Unlocking and slowly ensuring concessions, have not boomeranged exactly but Government is lately being ‘taken for granted’.
While need for a change or chilling out after a long interval may be understood if not appreciated, a close monitoring of people’s habits and reactions in the last few months do not show positive overtones.
Is Faith or Lack Thereof Stronger Than Fear ?
Unnecessary debate on this issue has been started. Kumbh, this time in Hardwar in Uttarakhand, is not a one day affair. Upon meticulous planning and huge expenditure, it goes beyond a month. So taking a chance itself will be a ‘sin’ in that sense.
Further, threats are already becoming louder from festivities, namely weddings, death ceremonies, unwanted urge for window shopping, recreating networking in and away from offices and what not.
Forthcoming Super Spreaders
Mega Super Spreaders, however, are going to be from an average of two day general Holi celebration and many days of traditional Holi festivities in Mathura, Vrindavan etc. The top notched, by any count, may be the election fever in five states up to the first week of May 2021. Are we taking requisite precautions? Hardly.
Observations Day In & Day Out
A Participant observation in any crowded place would invariably reveal the following (Source NITI Aayog):
* Mask removed with alleged rise in temperature,
* Interacting without putting on mask,
* Transferring Infection without wearing a mask,
* Mask being used as a Necklace,
* Body temperature taken in unprofessional manner at the Metro, Bus and Railway stations,
* Carelessness also observed while sanitizing hands and holding huge shopping/ business bags,
* State of tension revealed while checking in luggage/ putting them for x-ray, examination,
* Taboo of shaking hands is being obliquely resumed. No longer edge of right elbow is offered so as to ensure limited contact,
* While touching door handles, locks, bolts, sharing pens ,looking at files, letters etc. We forget that one is still in the midst of a Pandemic,
* Earlier weddings or similar gatherings would have a restricted number of attendants. Numbers are doubling or tripling now without a concern for safety of others, AND
* Usual rush by sacrificing social distancing norms at liquor shops, vegetable, fruit & meat stalls, snack corners etc. can be seen.
According to a study of CCMB, Hyderabad, while there is an immediate need to avoid crowded places, hygiene vis a vis even close relatives will have to be ensured and the earlier practice of carrying your own sanitizer may have to be insisted upon.
Also the taxi and TSR drivers must re-fix plastic sheets, duly separating passengers with the driver.
One should carry minimum cash & valuables while leaving home as many LD unemployed elements are resorting to snatchings, especially from the women folk.
Coming to tremendous spike in cases, nationally, Maharastra, Punjab and Kerala already account for 76% cases but situation is also becoming alarming in Delhi, Karnataka, MP, Gujarat and Rajasthan.
We are taking pride in leading in vaccinations(almost 5 crore doses so far) but one forgets the loss factor at a time when some of the countries are yet to begin even the first round. Average 10% loss of vaccines in seemingly more conscious states of Andhra, Telengana and UP is something unpalatable.
Also worry should be on account of slow coverage of 60 years plus category. Not more than 50% achievement has been recorded herein. Thus one can imagine the time to be taken for 20.7 Crore people in the age group of 45 to 59 (88% of deaths involve 45 + population).
Over here it may be noted that not always official callousness may be the cause. Experience of many states has shown that people are in double mind even after registration and subsequent to taking the first dose. Another challenge comes from those listeners or viewers who will pick up a few shortfalls quickly and would circulate the same without realizing the consequences. But genuine success stories are often ignored.
Another disturbing development is little focus on the rural areas. Not only precious time is lost, rural folks are also manoevoured easily by the negative news of the media and social media.
Further carelessness can be fatal in future, irrespective of approaching summer.
Freak weather conditions do also crop up, time and again.
Measures like night curfew, resumption of 50% attendance in the offices, cinema halls, fresh restrictions in malls, sports facilities etc. MAY NOT make a dent.
Also lock-downs on Sundays and holidays too appear to be doing barely a lip service.
In view of the facts that India has again occupied 3rd place in the world in terms of 24 hour recordings and that 150% spike in positive cases have been recorded in 70 districts and that the country has recorded highest number of cases in 105 days as also sharpest five day rise in ten months, a fresh Lock-Down for a month or two seems necessary.
Globally too, when last noted, infections had risen by 14% in one week alone, thus necessitating new lockdowns steps in Poland, France, Ukraine, Germany and Switzerland etc. But concerned citizens like Indians are already becoming restive. While Britain has reported vaccine coverage of half of its population, severe restrictions are still being faced. Brazil too has declared its situation as very critical.
Fresh closing of beaches in Brazil, USA and parts of Europe does not serve much purpose. Because, at a drop of hat resistance comes from the people in the name of “rights” and freedom.
India, at Crossroads?
Back to India, while on the part of the government a complete lockdown in 5 top states and compulsory Antigen tests appear to be NEED OF THE HOUR, people in the age group of 25 to 55 years shall have to display truly responsible behavior in following the Covid Protocol relating to cleanliness, proper use of masks and strict social distancing in all crowded places. Both people as also regulators need to draw lessons from the earlier experience of the peak periods of 2020. More and more of casual behavior will prove counter-productive. Also expecting everything from the Govt. shall not be just and fair.
TO CONCLUDE, the Second wave may be reported as milder, but it is MORE TRANSMISSIBLE. As things stand, it is unlikely that the ambitious target of vaccinating 300 million Indians by July end will be achieved.
Perhaps the dictum of Self Help being the Best Help will work. With the advent of another peak season, very thing may go haywire. Who knows ?
A retired IAS officer, the writer was Chief Secretary, Sikkim