More than a month after the declaration of the GREAT LOCKDOWN by the Prime Minister, utter confusion prevails over the horizon. Is India open or locked? No certain answer can be given, even partially. The Home Ministry’s instructions succeeded in compounding muddle with erratic and perhaps legally untenable conditions. There are different interpretations, clarifications, re-re-clarifications, by different authorities. One wonders why the instructions were signed by the home ministry officers and not by health authorities whose opinion should supersede any other considerations in the health emergency.
Was the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) that is supposed to head the fight against the Coronavirus involved? Perhaps two thought processes were flying in contra direction: one enthusiastically braying to quick-start the business of money-making, and others more concerned with an intimidating stare of the epidemic vulnerability. Having pushed the believing nation in a blind tunnel without any plan, the government is struggling to untangle itself. One of the industry captains summed it up aptly: the corona was the virus government spread in the country.
This predicament is not unique to India: the same is happening in the USA, the role model for many of the Indians, and many other countries of west and east. We can say that the unique outcome of this crisis is the total exposure of the incompetency of the political class. It has failed, failed miserably in the major test in history. Their defence that they were not forewarned and had no time to plan and prepare proper response is only half-truth. Scientists were issuing warnings about nature and scale of the impending crisis since January 2020, but the governments remained deaf and blind, until mid-March when the demon had overwhelmed them.
Lancet, the leading journal of medical sciences, had published a study on 30th January, yes, January, that had warned of a global epidemic. Three scholars from Hongkong University wrote the paper that using the mathematical model, sought to forecast possible scale of the Coronavirus endemic in China and in the world. Based on available data at that point, the scholars warned of the global endemic of the coronavirus. They had clearly demanded that “preparedness plans should be readied for deployment at short notice, including securing supply chains of pharmaceuticals, personal protective equipment, hospital supplies, and the necessary human resources to deal with consequences of a global outbreak of this magnitude”.
Very few of the political leaders stirred by this early warning, except perhaps a Germany, or a South Korea. The State of Kerala that recorded the first importation of the virus in India on the same day, has achieved exemplary success on the basis of building up the capability of public health in that state. But these are exceptions.
If only, if only, any of the gentlemen sitting at the high tables of power had read the Lancet article, and had learned the weight of the grave words, he could have moved the government machinery in at least the first week of February. But actually, there are reasons to believe if anybody in the power game reads anything worth the name, leave academic journals. The fabled child who called out the naked king has grown up into silence and has morphed in the fawning media. The contempt towards sciences and reason among the political classes is appalling!
We are paying a heavy price for the criminal neglect of public health and education, two pillars of any civilization. The governments have withdrawn from their core responsibilities and farmed out these to private profits, at the peril of public. Health and education are never made electoral issues, by the parties or the media as well as the voters themselves. Resultantly, you get leaders who prescribe drinking a dose of house disinfectants to kill the Coronavirus or others who arrange public bouts of drinking indigenous gomutra. And venerable sadgurus who are just waiting to reopen their ashrams and mathas to conduct sacrificial mahayadna for Corona demon, perhaps after 3rd of May.
- Subhashchandra Wagholikar
(The author is a journalist stationed at Aurangabad. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)