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Home / Columns / The centrality of citizens in the battle against Covid

The centrality of citizens in the battle against Covid

Protecting yourself and those around you is the only way to emerge from this crisis. Be responsible, overcome fear

columns Updated: Jun 28, 2020 18:54 IST
Shashi Shekhar
Shashi Shekhar
Passengers maintain social distance, Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, Mumbai, June 19, 2020
Passengers maintain social distance, Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, Mumbai, June 19, 2020(ANI)

If there is one area in which India’s politicians have led by example, it is in observing the protocols that have come about due to the Covid-19 pandemic. From day one, Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi, the ministers in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government and chief ministers have all been seen in public with masks and observing social distancing. And rightly so. The lockdown too was implemented much earlier in India than in many other countries.

I was struck by a clip of France’s President Emmanuel Macron reaching out to the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The latter promptly folded his arms to prevent Macron from hugging him. Macron realised his error and backed away. This is the same Johnson who ridiculed Covid-19 and put himself and citizens at risk by disregarding the precautions required to contain the virus. But now, better sense has prevailed, with perhaps the exception of United States (US) President Donald Trump and Brazil’s President Jair Bolsanaro. As a result of the Trump administration’s mismanagement, over 2.5 million Americans have been infected so far.

Last week, while launching his election campaign at Tulsa, Oklahoma, Trump shattered all physical distancing rules. Many of his supporters neither wore masks nor gloves, nor did they observe social distancing. Bolsonaro has refused to observe any precautions in public gatherings. So far, more than 55,000 people have succumbed to the coronavirus and the total number of infected in Brazil has crossed 1.3 million. He is the only Head of State in the world, who was not only reprimanded by the federal court for not wearing a mask, but also warned with a fine.

While Indians are generally not known for their discipline when it comes to obeying rules, the virus has brought about a welcome change. News has come from Aligarh that now the ritual of touching feet in weddings is being done away with in many instances. Longer planks are now being used to seat the bride and groom near the vedi during weddings. The pandit too sits a distance away and uses a special bamboo stick to conduct the ceremonies. Has Covid-19 then started changing social customs?

Not nearly enough, it would seem. The rising numbers of cases and fatalities suggest that much more needs to be done in adopting safer practices. The virus is raging in the developed countries of Europe and the less-densely populated countries of Africa. We have to worry as India’s population density is high and the health care system is poor. We are inching ahead in the positivity and fatality tables.

The number of people getting infected daily in India has crossed 15,000. So far, more than half a million people have been infected and the fatality figures are in excess of 15,000. At the time of writing, we are the fourth most-affected nation in the world.

Little wonder that there is fear all round. Last Sunday, I went to Sector 18 in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, which is the busiest market in the city. Two decades ago, when I first visited this place, I hoped that this market would soon beat Connaught Place in New Delhi in popularity and business. But today, the opposite holds true. There are hardly any shops open and no buyers at all despite the easing of restrictions.

This suggests an unprecedented economic slowdown. Let me give you a figure from the World Bank. Barring large corporate and traditional enterprises, the global economy is expected to suffer a loss of over $10 trillion due to the closure of schools alone. This is four times more than India’s economy.

The real upheaval will come when the results of the first quarter of this financial year come out. Many experts believe that those figures will accurately reflect the magnitude of the situation. It is likely that we will find that the unemployment situation will be exacerbated and people will plunge further into economic difficulties.

A certain degree of fear is natural, but we have to let our other natural instincts for survival kick in to deal with this. Humans have rarely been tested like this before. We have to be scrupulous in following the new protocols and rules. We must keep in mind that even after a cure or a vaccine is developed, the virus will not go away.

The economic slide will continue. Citizens need to make efforts to protect themselves. Outsourcing everything to the government won’t work. We have to take the initiative to protect ourselves and those around us as best we can. This is the only way we will emerge from this crisis as individuals, communities and as a nation.

Shashi Shekhar is the editor-in-chief, Hindustan

The views expressed are personal

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