ndia’s 1.3 billion individuals went under “total lockdown” from Tuesday midnight. The Centre and state governments have taken measures to ensure that the supply of all essential items continue smoothly but there is panic in public and they all have over crowded in grocery shops. Some of the areas in Mumbai are as usual as they were before Coronavirus threat. Hundreds were walking in lines of five or six. Young, in their twenties and early thirties, a few had women and children. Most carried haversacks while others dragged cheap, non-branded trolleys or just inexpensive sling bags. Tired, they were sweating profusely as the crowds were increasing. Bank ATM, medical shops and milk shops had queue like demonetization days. They walked by choking passing traffic. These people were part of the great Indian exodus. They had certainly missed the proverbial last bus and now had nothing but legs or a willing and permitted empty truck to take them home, however distant and remote in Uttar Pradesh or Uttarakhand. As Modi shared his concern for the 1.3 billion or more Indians, a gnawing worry caught up: did the thought of these people, epitome of those destined to suffer the longest from the disease, collapse of personal economies or disruption of children’s education, cross the prime minister’s mind while drawing up the plan to announce a complete nationwide lockdown?
Or, has it been rationally worked out by the powers that in this grave battle –undoubtedly, the most monstrous challenge post-independence – there would be collateral damage? The prime minister’s address to the nation has either been preceded or followed on all the three crucial occasions by panic. This was the second occasion that his ‘Aaj Raat Bara Baje Se’ (from midnight tonight) phrase sent chills down people’s spine. He was hardly halfway through his speech that families were dispatching members for last minute stocking of whatever they could lay hands on. With these words, for the first time in its history, Prime Minister Narendra Modi put the entire nation under a strict three-week curfew. Every state, every Union Territory, every district, every village and every locality is being put under lockdown. He announced in his second address to the nation since the outbreak of the global COVID-19 pandemic that has claimed more than 17,000 lives around the world so far. Modi stated quite explicitly how seriously the country ought to observe this curfew and what would be the cost of acting otherwise. “Step outside the ‘Lakshman Rekha’ of your house in the next 21-days and you will set the country back by 21-years,” he said, adding that repeated studies and recent data by experts have proved social distancing is the only answer to breaking the cycle of the infection.
The lockdown will be like a “curfew” only but more stringent than the ‘Janta Curfew’, which the country had observed on 22 March, he said, adding it will have an economic cost but saving people’s lives is of the paramount interest to his government. At this time of crisis, Modi said the only focus for both the central and all state governments should be to improve healthcare facilities. He announced a special Rs 15,000 crore package to equip healthcare workers with the necessary protection, to train healthcare workers and paramedics, and to procure necessary medical facilities for ICU beds. Modi expressed happiness with the manner in which the private sector, including hospitals and laboratories, were “coming forward to work with the government in these challenging times. Assuring citizens that the supply of essential goods will not discontinue or be affected, Modi said the government is taking all steps to ensure a continuous supply. Acknowledging that the poorer sections of the society were suffering the most during the ongoing crisis, Modi expressed pleasure at the manner in which the central and some state governments have united with civil society to help them.
There will be social and economic consequences and the PM did not equivocate on the challenges. He spoke of the vulnerable sections, and as in last week’s speech, emphasised the imperative to be compassionate. He lauded the frontline workers, doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers, expressed gratitude to Safai Karamcharis and praised the private sector and civil society. A reworked social compact — more compassionate — will be necessary to confront the challenges posed by the lockdown. It is now up to civil society, government agencies, the healthcare and corporate sectors to take their cues from the PM’s speech and ensure that the burden of fighting the pandemic does not fall too heavily on those at the margins, the migrant and daily wage labourers, the rickshaw pullers and others for whom these 21 days could prove to be the toughest. The Centre and state governments will need to work together, setting aside their political differences, to ensure that there is no shortage of essential commodities and the supply chains are not broken. Well! People are forced to follow PM’s instructions buy one need to understand that this is total incompetence and inept handling. “A stitch in time saves nine or, the classic case of “Locking the stable when the horses have bolted.” A proper quarantine system and process, 100 per cent full proof, in the handful international airports (inside airports) was what needed by the middle of February itself.
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