Can one day Janta curfew curb the spread of Coronavirus?

The government has to contribute to this spirit of unity and address the issues of livelihood, and public health while simultaneously funding research for a vaccine, and making it accessible to all citizens.

corona virus
Marathahalli bridge. Bangalore. Source : twitter

History has shown us that some battles are won in a single day. Or a single day may change the course of a long drawn battle. In the battle against Corona Virus, today’s Janta curfew will neither be our victory day nor does it seem to change the course of the battle. Corona will not go after we clap our hands from our balconies tonight. There is a lot more to be done.

The challenge we face here is that we are trying to understand the virus at the same time we are providing care for the ever-increasing number of affected people, and also racing to find a cure while we are trying to prevent its spread. We are preparing for a battle and fighting it at the same time.

Etiology of COVID-19

Our enemy is the SARS-CoV2 aka Corona Virus, and COVID-19 is the respiratory disease that it causes. This virus is difficult to detect in the early stages. We will only know about its existence in our body days after getting infected, we may not experience any symptoms for days, meanwhile, we would have spread it to our near and dear ones before we know it.

Since this has not just been an individual’s battle or only one nation’s battle. We can learn from the mistakes and experiences of those who have suffered before us.

According to the World Health Organisation, only 4% of affected individuals have died globally, this translates into a large number of people given how many have been affected within the past four months. The latest figures are 2,34,073 infected and 9840 dead. Among them, 24,247 fresh cases and 1061 deaths were reported in the last 24 hours. The virus has shown itself to be resilient and can survive on various surfaces for days.

The most reliable weapon we have so far is washing our hands more often, not touching our face and social distancing for long periods. Because we are both the victims and the medium for the virus, the more strictly we follow social distancing, the lesser the chance for the virus to spread. A long period of social distancing among ourselves will go a long way in reducing the spread of the virus, thus saving many lives.

Since this has not just been an individual’s battle or only one nation’s battle. We can learn from the mistakes and experiences of those who have suffered before us.

The most important lesson to be learned from the experiences of the worst affected countries is that we need to test a lot more people, to begin with. We need to stop defending the policy of testing only a limited number of people who have come in contact with a known case. This would have helped in the very early days when the virus was only reported in China. But that time has passed. The authorities must act with the assumption that they may not have detected and quarantined early carriers of the virus who could have entered the country from any of the 30 international airports.

We will be unaware of the actual number of infected individuals as long as we do not expand our testing. The lack of reliable data could turn the containment strategy ineffective. There are many cases of passengers missing the tests and not declaring their travel history.  There could be many unknown positive cases clapping from their balconies tonight, and many more that would have come in contact with them.

What needs to be done?

We need to quickly build the infrastructure needed for testing and quarantining lakhs of individuals outside airports and borders. The manufacturing and distribution of testing kits must be taken up on a war footing. Not having enough kits, and hence not willing to test more people, is not an excuse the government can sit with. The low number of positive cases could very well be due to the low number of tests. A fee on getting tested would be counterproductive. This will discourage people from getting tested through scientific means and those who cannot afford it will simply not show up. This could also lead some people towards unscientific or unhygienic forms of testing if it works out cheaper.  Moreover, how can you trust those who try to profit during a health crisis to help fight the crisis?

The virus has shown that anybody can be affected. It has no religion, no ideology, and no particular preference. We are only safe from the virus when everyone around us is also safe from the virus. Therefore the government should ensure that all affected citizens, no matter how rich or poor, majority or minority, must be given the best care and support. It should not tie the burden of access to quality health to the quantity of a person’s wealth.

As some of us have the privilege of working from home, lakhs of public health workers, doctors, sanitation workers, soap and sanitizer factory workers, law enforcement officers, public transport workers, airport staff,  journalists, internet and telecommunication workers, are voluntarily or involuntarily risking their health and showing up to work daily. They are the reason society is still functioning during this crisis. They deserve more than just our balcony gratitude. They deserve our solidarity. Our government has to make sure that all necessary protective equipment is supplied to them as they discharge their duties, and that they are not overworked or abused.

Many self-employed individuals and small businesses, who are yet to recover from the central government’s experiments in GST and currency demonetisation, are already now suffering from a drop in customers. Workers in small scale industries were already suffering from unpaid salaries for months due to depreciating demand. Farmers are not sure if they can take their produce to the markets this month.

As a result of people avoiding going out and the prohibition of large gatherings, the livelihoods of daily wage labourers, street vendors, artists, and short term service providers have taken a huge hit.

There must be an immediate focus on supporting them through a no-nonsense rescue package. Their situation is dire and should not be forgotten in the process of addressing the anxiety of shareholders and owners of large businesses, whose standards of living does not necessarily depreciate with the value of their stocks.

There is no doubt that a great level of cooperation and solidarity exists among the people, across class barriers, to help each other survive this crisis. The government has to contribute to this spirit of unity and address the issues of livelihood, and public health while simultaneously funding research for a vaccine, and making it accessible to all citizens.

Perhaps this is how a government ought to express its gratitude to all those who are keeping the county going: By giving them a healthy and prosperous society as soon as possible.

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