If there has been one occasion in the six-year-old Telangana state when people at large are looking for reassuring and calming words from Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao, it is now. Between the last week of March when the state and the country went into a lockdown and today, a sense of panic has gripped the people, partly genuine, partly on the basis of unfounded apprehensions, but accentuated by a feeling of abandonment. Poor communication from the representatives of the government is only fuelling this fear.
It matters little to the people whether the Chief Minister functions out of Secretariat, Pragati Bhavan, his home-cum-office, or even his farmhouse on the city’s outskirts. What, however, surely makes a difference to them is the growing apprehension whether the state has given up the fight to control coronavirus, which has so far claimed more than 300 lives and affected close to 35,000.
In the initial days, everything appeared in control as the Chief Minister kept engaging with the people as regularly as was needed via media conferences and other means. As the virus spread and cases began increasing, the channels of communication disappeared. In comparison, the Chief Minister of another state started holding press conferences almost on a daily basis to address public concerns while Chief Ministers of some states repeatedly called all-party meetings to give out information and seek guidance. For a leader who galvanized people for a separate state, got millions of saplings planted in a single day and conducted household survey of the entire Telangana population, again in one day, to replicate/ improve upon what is being done elsewhere is no big deal.
With several medical aspects concerning the spread of virus still unclear, it is only natural that strategies have to keep changing. Telangana, too, has to relook at what has been done so far. From the views gathered by this newspaper from experts, what urgently needs to be done in Hyderabad and elsewhere is to rapidly increase testing. As the number of tests increases, so will positive cases. It need not be seen as a reflection on the government. On the contrary, it will help arrive at specific strategies for specific locations. We need to build confidence among the people that going to government hospitals for Covid treatment is safe. We also can’t have a situation where patients visit government hospitals but nurses go on strike seeking better pay.
Besides, no private hospital to which patients appear to be flocking are reportedly sticking to the price cap fixed by the government. They must be reined in. Several retired medical professionals who had served at government-run hospitals for long are willing to offer suggestions and guide the team of doctors and paramedics who are currently battling it out in government hospitals. They need to be roped in. A task force comprising proven leaders in crisis management — from among ministers, bureaucrats and health experts — should be set up to arrive at strategies based on the emerging situation. Last but not the least, there are several organisations, ranging from Ramakrishna Mutt, Rotary/Lions clubs to Seva Samithis, with thousands of volunteers ever willing to serve the society. They have to be drafted in.
Unlike in the beginning, there is now consensus that we should learn to live with the virus. Going by the trends so far, the virus appears to be spreading from cities to Tier 1 and Tier 2 towns. It will only get more challenging. Educating people on a continuous basis to prevent panic from spreading, along with effective monitoring and medical intervention, are the only way out. But the lead for proactive action can only come from the Chief Minister.