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Home / Columns / To beat Covid-19, citizens must remain responsible | Opinion

To beat Covid-19, citizens must remain responsible | Opinion

The health infra and testing capacity have improved. Now people must stop flouting health advisories

columns Updated: Jul 12, 2020 22:11 IST
Shashi Shekhar
Shashi Shekhar
It is only if we work harmoniously as a society that we can save ourselves from the virus and from economic disaster
It is only if we work harmoniously as a society that we can save ourselves from the virus and from economic disaster(AP)

It was a lovely sunny afternoon in Stockholm in February 1988. It had snowed the night before. The brightness of the white sheet covering the city added to the mood of optimism that day. We were leaving a departmental store and heading for our hotel.

My friend had bought so many things that it required several bags to fit all of them in. The bags were heavy and we were staggering under their weight. Suddenly, someone from behind tried to take the packages out of my right hand. My immediate reaction was that it was a thief. But when I saw the person, he was well dressed and smiling politely. He took half the packages and started walking along with us. Half a kilometre ahead, the road bifurcated. Our hotel was to the right. The stranger had to go left. He returned our things and went his way, almost apologetic that he could not come all the way with us.

Why I am telling you this story about Sweden? Prime Minister Stefan Löfven refused to impose the lockdown in his country because it was too high an economic price to pay . He was confident that the Swedes would conform to the guidelines needed to keep themselves and the community safe. In other words, people would behave as the situation demanded. The Sweden experiment, despite all the discipline exhibited by the people, was not an unqualified success. Its death rate was higher than neighbouring Scandinavian countries which imposed strict lockdowns initially and the economic gains, according to experts, were not as much as had been hoped for. However, the point I am making here is the adherence to protocols by people.

Here, despite the best efforts of the government both at the state and central level, the lockdown has been reimposed in many places. In India, people put their own convenience first, forgetting the greater danger that lies in ignoring safe practices. As soon as the lockdown was lifted in some places, people started ignoring guidelines while visiting markets, attending offices or going to other public places. If public transport had been functional, the virus would have spread like wildfire.

We expect the government to deal with our problems. A large population such as ours cannot be hemmed in by official restrictions or by the law enforcement agencies alone. We have to have the will to fight the pandemic. We have to make changes in our personal behaviour. The United States (US) is an example of how ignoring safety precautions can tarnish the image of a progressive society.

It is not that the government is not doing its job. India has made rapid strides in testing capacity. Until March, we had only the National Institute of Virology in Pune to test for the coronavirus. Today tests are being conducted in over 1,100 locations in the country. Testing is being done in around 200 centres in Delhi and 115 in Maharashtra.

Similarly, hundreds of thousands of beds have been arranged throughout the country to admit Covid-19 patients. When the first case was confirmed in January, we were totally in the dark as to how to deal with the virus if it spread across the country.

As a result of these efforts, the recovery rate of patients is going up daily. In the last days of March, the rate of recovery of infected people in the country was just 7%, now it is in the range of 60%. In some states, it has reached 80%. This is an overall improvement of more than eight times. Both the number of cases in terms of the population, and the fatality rate, in India, compared to many countries in the world, remains lower.

However, the danger is far from over. The virus is nowhere near contained. This is why the number of people getting infected by the virus is greater than those who are recovering.

Significantly, rural areas have been able to tackle pandemics better over the centuries, thanks to better hygiene practices. We have to sync our traditions with new health challenges.

Along with this, economic activities also have to be revived. Industrial production has not returned to pre-Covid levels; the demand in the markets has fallen. The government will have to adopt integrated measures to bring the two together. But there is a lack of coordination among government departments.

It is only if we work harmoniously as a society that we can save ourselves from the virus and from economic disaster. If not, we will find ourselves facing ever-increasing problems which could debilitate us as a people and as a nation.

Shashi Shekhar is the editor-in-chief, Hindustan
The views expressed are personal

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