Social distancing and its importance for Covid 19 Break-out
It has struck a death knell to thousands of people, world over. Yes, I am talking about the Corona Virus named COVID-19 which has caught us off guard. It is now threatening to engulf the entire world and end more lives than it already had. Well! What is the way out or solution for this Pandemic. Medical experts and scientists the world over have agreed that self-quarantining oneself at home and distancing oneself from each other are the only some-what surer measures of self-protection.
When Prime Minister, Narendra Modi announced the “Janta Curfew” for the whole day of 22nd March, 2020 due to the Covid – 19 attack, people were busy looking for the hidden agenda behind it.
Since the fateful day of announcement at late night by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2016 of de-monitization of India’s currency, public are not willing to take any later announcements or statements casually. Because what followed after de-monitization was pandemic of a different kind. And, honestly, we have still not gotten over it.
When Narendra Modi, true to our expectations, was to address the Nation, in quick succession for a second time on the night of 24th March 2020, it was preceded by wild speculations. And he came out with the most loud and clear announcement! “From midnight of 24th March 2020, the country as a whole will be under lockdown for 21 days”. People had to suddenly get used to the idea of forgetting what going out meant.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a show stopper. He knows to strike the right chords at the right time. Time and again both here and abroad, he had demonstrated his ability to win hearts and minds simultaneously.
Not by showmanship but by a genuine passion for mankind, is the indisputable truth, to which the whole world is a witness, including his COVID-19 Emergency SAARC Tele-meet initiative of the world G-20 leaders, as late as at 5/00pm last evening.
Having said that, it will not be wrong to say that this Covid-19 pandemic, is a testing time even for his Government to lead our own Nation on the right path to safety and security.
When the Janta Curfew ended on 22nd March 2020, a round of applause at 5 p.m. from our own homes to the health workers went up the sky, in praise of them for giving up their time with their families to help us stay with our families alive!
However, we could not help standing up to give him the first round of applause and salutation along with our heroes who are fighting there at the forefront of our frontiers the Corona war.
However, the 5 p.m. applause turned out to be a farce in some parts. This made him stress the significance and the need for “social distancing” in his second address to the Nation on the 24th. His words were clear : "Step outside in the next 21 days, and you set this country back 21 years”.
I would like to point out here that the national events forced themselves upon Mr. Modi forcing him to announce the all out 21 days lockdown nationwide. Even before the 24th announcement, one state after another had initiated the process of curfews and lock-downs seeing that the virus, left unchecked, may overtake the entire nation catastrophically.
As per a mathematical model developed by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), India were to rigidly and religiously implemented social distancing measures either in the form of home quarantine or maintaining safe distance between individuals.
This is hoped to positively bring down the overall expected number of cases by 62 percent. Also, peak number of cases may stand to drop down by 89 percent. This will result in “flattening” of the alarmingly spiking curve. This, in turn, will offer more chances for interventions, treatment and cure.
Again, India is a nation where numerous people lead a hand to mouth existence. Even for mere survival, most of them have to slog every day. In such a scenario, long-term lock-downs may not go down well with the masses. As it is, even three weeks is cutting it too fine. And frequent lock-downs are as good as ruled out.
Now, we are drawn up to the million dollar question as to whether the lock-down implemented was too premature or too late.
Grim as it may sound now, I feel that it may be even more latter. My personal opinion is that the lock-downs could have been initiated much earlier in a phased out manner in stages.
This would have given people the time to assimilate the situation and gradually get used to the dangerous pandemic that is staring them in the eye.
No doubt that the first lock-down on the 22nd was a curtain raiser. But, even then it was too late. The country was already struggling with Covid 19 positive cases and many Covid – 19 carrier cases. And people were still returning from overseas. Even as it took time for the government and the authorities to put restrictions and curfews in place, they were overtaken by the alarming rise in the number testing positive as also the number of carrier cases.
The government was a wee bit slow in rolling out the testing modules, because it had taken six weeks for the Pune-based Molecular Lab to bring out a 100% indigenous Testing Kit, which is a record time. In the meantime one lakh ten thousand Kits were procured through the help of WHO.
The self-quarantine protocol for the incoming travellers and their surroundings had gaping holes. Given the speed with which the virus spreads including through infected but asymptomatic people, the government could have started off the exercise much earlier, say at least, a month before, in early Feuruary.
However, there are always exceptions to the rule. I should mention my appreciation for the southern state of Kerala. This government had managed to trace every possible contact of infected people including the seat that they may have used in movie theatres.
The success and victory of this national lock-down will totally rest on each State Government’s ability to make it work. Strict monitoring measures have to be put in place and the state should be prepared to hand out essential services to large sections of the people who may find it difficult to survive sans them. We are a 1.3 billion populated country. And it is not easy to keep the wheels grinding without well thought out protocols and exceptional planning.
With a migrant labour population surviving as a dozen in a room, what will be the decision of the State Governments regarding “social distancing”. There are quite a few confusing and confounding questions staring them in the face.
What will be the plight of these countless migrant labourers? Will they be forced to return home thus hiking up the virus spread ? Or do we just look the other way and pray that this crowded condition does not immediately lead to transmission disasters?
And finally, what will happen to the Indian working class who have to earn every day to feed themselves and their families?
And, mind you. This protocol is not for a short time. As of now, it is for three weeks and is likely to be extended further indefinitely. What are the Government’s plans to feed the daily wage earners if they are forced to lock down for the greater good. The emerging picture is both scary and sad.
But, I see the federal government quite confident about handling the pandemic. Let’s wait and watch.
“After the first death, there is no other” –is the famous quote by the welsh Poet Dylan Thomas. I am strangely reminded of this quote when I think of the de-monetization drive in 2016 and its fallout. Six months of chaos and confusion ensued. The central government’s brilliant announcement was not sufficiently backed up by organizational competence.
And closely on its heels came the new Goods & Service Tax implementation in July 2017. The new tax regime has not yet fully seen the light of the day. It is still ridden with so many gaping holes and deficiencies. A very beneficial tax indeed. But, again this was also blighted by bad planning and even worse implementation.
I strongly feel that though the Prime Minister’s decisions and projects are heroic and far sighted in their vision, they invariably come to naught due to the reality of the shaky Indian state and its not-so-well-prepared administration.
The government under Narendra Modi will have to bring on a multi-pronged strategy to fight and ultimately win over this pandemic. The Indian State will have to create history by reassuring the public that its primary task is to take care of each and every Indian. It should prove, by its actions that this government is “for the people, of the people and by the people”.
Some states may come out successful in their fight against the pandemic. They may even achieve world-class results for managing the lock-down admirably. However, some other poor North-Eastern states and over populated Northern states may not fare so well. Like for example in Arunachal and Ladakh there are no testing facilities at all.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi did well to implement the 21 day lock-down at least now. “Thank God, we did it at least now” and “Better late than never” are honestly what is on all our minds.
As things are, it is true that we do see a ray of light at the end of the tunnel. I am sure the Prime Minister’s hands were forced to do what he did in this regard and sure it will do more to lead us all to our old glory and light.
And mind you, he goes all the way to achieve his end. Ushering in a complete lock-down for the entire 1.3 billion people for 21 days is indeed unimaginable, unthinkable and what not. But, usher in, he did. Narendra Modi is known to think big and act with an iron hand as well.
Whether the huge gamble pays or not rests in the way it is handled by the people. Through numerous national addresses and state addresses, the Prime Ministers, Ministers, Chief Ministers and the Administrative Heads should tutor the public about the dos and don’ts. The people should be made aware of the danger lurking at the end of the road. They should be made to realize strongly that there will not be a second chance.
Most importantly, however, I was wondering how the Government was going to back up its announcement of the 21 day national lock-down in terms of providing the poorer sections with enough to last out the panic period.
YES. The Government today has come out with further announcements putting my ponderings at rest. The Prime Minister had announced even on the 24th instant that Rs.15,000 crores fund has been set aside for treatment and medical expenses concerned with the Covid-19 pandemic.
Now, today on the 26th, the Finance Minister has come out with various schemes and allocations to tide over the present crisis. She has announced a 1.7 crore lakh package for the benefit of the not so fortunate nationals of India :
1. 5 kg. cereals and I kg. pulses for next 3 months in addition to what they are already getting through PDS. This can be drawn in two instalments.
2. Farmers, poor widows, MANREGA, poor pensioners, poor handicapped, women having Jan Dhan Accounts, Ujwala Scheme beneficiaries, women in Deen Dayal Upadhya Schemes and Construction workers have been made eligible for cash transfer scheme.
3. Farmers already receiving Rs.6000 annually have been permitted to draw Rs.2000 upfront now.
4. Wage increase from Rs.182/- to Rs.202 declared for MANREGA workers. This will benefit about 5 crore families Rs.2000/- annually.
5. Old age people, disabled and widows have been sanctioned additional ex gratia of Rs.1000/- in two instalments benefitting nearly 3 crore persons.
6. Women Jan Dhan account holders have also been sanctioned ex gratia of Rs.500/- per month for the next three months. Incidentally, this will stand to benefit about 20 crore women.
7. 8 crore of the below poverty line families will be given free gas cylinders for cooking for the next three months under the Ujwala Scheme.
8. 63 lakh women self help groups will be sanctioned collateral free loan of Rs.20 lakhs hiked up from Rs.10 lakhs. This will impact 7 crore households.
9. In the organised sector, Government of India will pay the EPF contribution of the employer and the employee tallying up to 24 percent for the next three months. This is restricted to those organisations having less than 100 employees and 90 percent of whom are drawing less than Rs.15000/- salary.
10. As much as 80 lakh employees will stand to gain by the amendment to the EPFO regulation to allow non refundable advances of 75 percent of EPFO account balance or equivalent of three month of wages whichever is lesser. This will make it easy for 4 crore workers registered with EPFO.
11. The government holds a fund of Rs.31000/-crore under the Construction Workers’ Central Act framed exclusively for construction workers. The State Governments are being directed to utilize this fund for the benefit of construction workers.
12. District Mineral Fund is being ordered to be used by the Districts for medical testing facility, medical screening, providing health attention etc.
Having put all steps in place to effectively wage a war against the Covid-19 pandemic, I once again applaud the Prime Minister and the national government for its slew of initiatives and schemes to beat the disease. We have to be also content with the policy of less is more and make the best out of the financial package worked out by the FM, under fiscal stress and deficit financing and having to preserve fiscal prudence and Macro stability.
In conclusion, I sign off saying that the India that emerges at the other end of these three fateful weeks will be one that is wiser, stronger and healthier. All Indians, nay, all world population will have gone through enough fear, turmoil, confusion and panic to emerge more sober and mature.
And to conclude, I would like to turn on to you a faithful note that “even this will pass” which we all want badly to pass for good, sooner than later.