The dreadful pathogen called novel coronavirus aka COVID-19 is going berserk after taking the shape of a pandemic. The countries affected by it went into a huddle imposing lockdowns in many cities as part of their efforts to contain its spread.
The virus proved the fact that in this globalized world not only the 3Ms — Men, Material and Money — that move across national boundaries but also viruses. Many non-resident Indians, students and tourists, who got infected while they were abroad, carried it into India and spread it further with their irresponsible behavior. Many say that India is slowly entering the critical phase of community transmission, which will have terrible consequences. If that happens in densely populated India, where health infrastructure is in a pathetic condition, the situation will easily go out of control.
The union and state governments In India have so far been proactive and managed to contain its spread to a great extent. However, the task of bringing the virus under control requires herculean efforts from now onwards. It is against this backdrop the Prime Minister announced the novel initiative called ‘Janata Curfew’. Many people wonder why did he urge the people to observe the voluntary curfew, instead of imposing a lockdown?
Here are some of the reasons he did not go for a complete lockdown.
Normally, in the aftermath of every crisis — whether it is a terror attack or economic crisis — state heads of the impacted nations reassure their citizens not to panic and urge them to get on with their usual lives and show resilience.
After the 9/11 attacks, the then President of the United States, George W. Bush, urged Americans not to be afraid and advised them to ‘go shopping’. Because, if the people feel frightened and stay indoors the terrorists succeed in their mission.
But now, in the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak, they face a peculiar situation. They have to scare people as much as possible to make them stay indoors. However, if they indulge in excessive scaremongering, people will withdraw into a protective cocoon, which will cause enormous damage to the economy. At the same time, if they downplay the severity of the pandemic and advise the people to get on with their usual lives, there will be an enormous loss of life. Therefore, governments are facing a very delicate situation. However, at a certain point, they will be forced to choose between saving human lives and safeguarding the economy. By opting for aggressive measures, they may be able to save more lives, but the economy will go down the drain. In the same way, they can save the economy through lax measures only at considerable cost to human lives.
A few days ago, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi alleged that the government is not responding adequately to contain the coronavirus and advocated aggressive measures to face the pandemic. But in a democracy like India, where mainstream media as well as social media are hyperactive, aggressive measures must wait even in a potentially dangerous situation. If the government resorts to high-handedness too early, it will not only spread panic but also enable its detractors to accuse it of being an authoritarian regime. Resorting to high-handed methods straightaway is possible only in countries such as China, which is ruled by the highly authoritarian communist regime.
The Chinese communists are known for their brutal methods to enforce iron discipline among their people by keeping things completely opaque and by maintaining conspiratorial silence. Their press is only a propaganda mission and always toes the line of the Communist Party of China (CPC). Their brutal methods and ability to maintain secrecy enabled them to bring the pandemic under control. But their methods can’t be fully replicated here in India.
Currently, the world economy is not doing well and the Indian economy is no different. As the economy is facing stiff headwinds, the Prime Minister can’t afford to resort to scaremongering to force people to stay indoors. At the same time, he can’t afford to let people lower their guard, as the pathogen that triggered the pandemic neither has a vaccine nor is there an effective antidote to cure it. Therefore, Prime Minister Modi came up with an ingenious solution. He appeared on television to make a fervent appeal to the people to stay indoors voluntarily instead of imposing a complete lockdown and gave it the name ‘Janata Curfew’. He also spoke about the enormity of the problem by emphasizing the fact that even World War I and II did not affect as many countries as coronavirus has done. By doing so, he maintained a delicate balance and kept things in perspective.
What is frightening, however, is the relentless spread of the virus. Reports of people jumping quarantine and many NRIs and celebs going on a party binge after returning from abroad are causing a lot of concern among the ordinary people. Such incidents may even lead to a situation where community spread becomes imminent. Many people feel that the Janata Curfew is only a prelude to the more drastic measures that are impending in case the situation deteriorates further.
Moreover, there are many who opine that ‘Janata Curfew’ is only for ordinary ‘Janata’ (lesser mortals) and the globe-trotting higher mortals will continue to go shopping and partying and thereby spreading the decease far and wide. The fact that the virus is spreading due to the irresponsible behavior of the globe-trotting businessmen and professionals proves that there is no correlation between education and civic sense. If people continue to behave in an irresponsible manner the government may be compelled to resort to drastic and even high-handed methods to bring the situation under control. Therefore, people, irrespective of their social status, have to behave responsibly by following the government’s directives and help the society and nation in containing the deadly pathogen.
Despite its multiple drawbacks and seemingly limited effectiveness, let us all hope that the initiative taken by the Prime Minister will mitigate the impact of the dreadful virus and will go a long way in containing its spread.