Weighing up the Second Wave of COVID-19 and the Public Behavior

At the time when the threat of the infamous coronavirus among the people was considered enfeebled, the upsurge of the COVID-19 cases in India has slowly been reinstating the fear of the extended pandemic in the nation. The second wave, which is considered to have taken momentum since late February this year, has now compelled us to acknowledge the threat of coronavirus taking over the nation again. The majority of South Indian states and some states of North India have been contributing to most of the new cases in the country everyday. Among the major states that have been witnessing upsurge, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Punjab and Haryana, Karnataka have already begun imposing lockdowns and have begun creating restricted areas and naming COVID-19 hotspots and secluding them from the rest of the places that are yet to be affected. These aforementioned states account for almost eighty percent of the coronavirus cases that come out everyday in the country.

What is the story thus far? While the country was celebrating the first anniversary of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Janata curfew which kickstarted the series of lockdowns last year, the news of a second wave of COVID-19 striking India came about. As usual in its rapid pace, the virus spread in the major states of India moving the affected number of people from hundreds to thousands easily within a few weeks. As this article is being written, the highest single-day spike since October 23, 2020 has been registered to be 58,735 cases, according to the popular news daily, The Hindu. While the cumulative case count stood at 1,18,45,748, the death toll rose to 1,60,982. With only about four percent of Indians being vaccinated for the virus, the situation in hand is indeed dire and it needs to be handled as soon as and as effectively as possible. This brings us to look into what the central and state governments have done so far, to alleviate the crisis of the century.

The nation’s capital, New Delhi, has been neglecting the issue as much as possible since the second half of last year. In an effort to save the economy, the government and the people have chosen to consciously ignore the existence of the virus and to keep going about the daily quotidian affairs. However, with an increasing number of Covid’19 cases in its neighbouring states, the city has to discern the danger in the vicinity and act as swiftly as possible. As of now, only the metro stations have been working towards containing the cases as the DMRC keeps intensifying its actions to contain the spread. However, the closing of gates and cutting of several stations across the borders serve the twin purpose of containing the virus and the farmers’ protests, with more importance given to the latter concern. On the other hand, the festivities and crowd gatherings associated with festivals like Holi and Shab-e-Barat have pushed the Delhi government to ban the festivities for the current year. Same is the case for many other states like Maharashtra, Punjab, Chhattisgarh etc.

Maharashtra, on the other hand, has been striving to control the surge in virus cases. The state has already imposed restrictions in Nagpur until March 31. Added to that, it also has taken stringent actions to prevent people from loitering outdoors during the festive season. As festivals like Holi and Shab-e-Barat could intensify the spread of viruses, the state has banned the celebration of these festivals in public and has also banned celebration in groups.

In Punjab, the state of affairs relating to the spread of the virus has been worrying the administrators which has led to several restrictions being imposed on people for prevention and control of the virus. The state has imposed curfews and curbs till April 10. With over 33,000 new cases and over 1,500 deaths, the state is in tussle for calm and order amidst the pandemic.

Down the south, states like Tamil Nadu, where the cases of COVID-19 have been steadily increasing, are struggling to bring the situation under control. Tamil Nadu has the added burden of state legislative assembly elections scheduled for April, which worsens the situation.

While the central government and states are working to allay the rising threat of the virus, the public participation and contribution to the prevention and control of the virus spreading has been abysmal. A study suggests that over 99 percent of the people understand the importance of wearing a mask to prevent oneself from contracting the virus. But, only over 40 percent of the people actually follow the practice of wearing a face mask in public. This is the state of prevention and control of the virus in ground level. The blithe ignorance of people arising out of the lack of concern for the seriousness of the issue keeps the virus cases spiking. The langor among the public, especially after the cases started to die down towards the later part of last year, is a significant reason for the increasing number of virus cases since late February.

Few days ago, the Holi festival was ‘inevitably’ celebrated by some people in large gatherings by putting thousands of lives at risk. Even after receiving suggestions and restrictions from the government to avoid public gatherings during Holi this year, substantial number of people in metro areas have been flouting the restrictions.

While the vaccination program has been gaining some momentum, the negligence of risks involved in not following the COVID-19 prevention protocol is only going to make the situation appalling. With only about four percent of the population getting vaccinated, the surge in cases should be the last thing we need today. The contribution of the youth to the dereliction of one’s duty to control and prevent the spread of virus is meagre during such times of festivities like Holi. And sadly, the youth are among the last few groups of our country who will receive the jabs of vaccines. This presses the need for the youth to be responsible and not to heed such whims and fancies at the cost of their lives.

Traversing through the immunization process, India has been progressing steadily on vaccinating its citizens. Starting with the immunization for the health care and front line workers, the process has consistently been moving towards the senior citizens and the elderly and towards the adults with medical complications. With Co-WIN upgraded, the registration for vaccination has now been extended to the adults who are aged above 45 years starting April 1. Nevertheless, the government needs to correct the speed of vaccination in our country to prevent the recent spike in cases from reaching the uncontrollable upsurge. Thus far, the government of India has halted the exports of vaccines to other countries to cater to the domestic demand. India supplies its vaccines to over seventy countries accounting for over two million doses. But, the desperation of the situation in India has caused the government to hold back the supplies.

With the infections soaring (over half a lakh cases per day across India in less than two weeks), the nation has to act swiftly to alleviate the prevailing pandemic crisis. It is laudable that the government turned in all the supplies of vaccines from export to domestic demand. But, the figures showing only over four percent of the total 1.4 billion people in India is indicative of the fact that the government should rapidly vaccinate each and every one of its citizens as soon as possible. Failing to achieve the substantial immunization for its citizens, India is at the risk of facing the situation similar to the Europe or United States last year. In not trying to denigrate the efforts of the Indian government, one must not forget the facts and figures that accurately describe the situation today. It is evident from the economic implications of the series of lockdowns since last year that the Indian economy will not be able to handle yet another series of lockdowns that cuts employment for lakhs of Indians.

In the process of amelioration of the pandemic and related crises, the government must do the following at the earliest possible opportunity: One, if in dire necessity, the government must impose further lockdowns to manage the pandemic and allocate more red zones of COVID-19 to prescribe restrictions thereby least affecting the economy and quotidian affairs of the citizens. Two, rapid and steady increase of immunization process across the country and make available the vaccines for all the age groups as soon as possible. Three, the careful monitoring of the vaccine drive and ensuring the injection of doses at prescribed regular intervals to already vaccinated people. Four, creating COVID-19 awareness among the public to reinstate the importance of wearing a face mask and following proper sanitising and cleanliness through social media and other media like TV and radio. Producing short films, documentaries and feature films that address the issue should also serve as one of the measures in achieving the maximum possible pandemic awareness among the public.

It is the duty of the citizens to understand that one cannot eschew precautionary measures and avoid the presence of a global pandemic among us to loiter outdoors with minimal safety measures taken. It is our duty to follow the protocol and not to brush it aside as a nugatory and pointless homily.

-Subiksha Kumar (Freelancer)

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