Solitude sparks fear. Enforced solitude hastens horror. As people hunker down in silos of fear in the age of COVID-19, the words of Stephen King come to mind, “Get busy living or get busy dying”.
After three months of living in viral fright, the warning of the King of Horror echoes through a newly dystopian world as an interrogation of insecurity.
Worldwide over six million people are infected by the Coronavirus. About 3.60 lakh have died. For over ten weeks, the best and the worst of political leaders, scientists, academics, economists and medical geniuses have been searching for a magic bullet without success. They confabulated. They conspired.
They sent over seven billion people behind the locked doors of their homes. All activity was paralysed.
For the first time in history, the entire world went into a total lockdown which was hawked as the sole remedy to prevent mass fatalities.
Barring animals and birds, the movement of entire humanity was halted by brutal government enforcement. The jury is still out about the policy’s efficacy.
Never before has mankind’s patience been put to such vigorous test. Rich and poor, old and young, sick and healthy were forced to live with minimum facilities. Four out of five workers worldwide have lost their jobs.
As the global economy has shrunk by 20 percent and India’s by over 30 percent, government agencies created panic rather than panacea.
When rulers failed to assure people of a comfortable exit from forced house arrest, citizens hit the streets demanding restoration of normal life.
Leaders who pompously advised the public to learn to live with the virus had claimed that putting the brakes on normal life was meant to save lives. But how many were actually saved is debatable but 80 percent have lost their livelihood.
From New York to New Delhi, voices were raised to ensure a minimum subsistence level for millions. Recently, International Labour Organisation Director General Guy Ryder warned, “Workers and businesses are facing catastrophe, in both developed and developing economies. We have to move fast, decisively, and together. The right, urgent, measures could make the difference between survival and collapse”.
While rest of the world devised strategies to revive and open businesses, the exit plan in India is a work in progress. The ten-week lockdown hasn’t flattened the curve.
It has failed to cope with the rising demand for healthcare infrastructure because of the enormity of the challenge.
Undoubtedly, spectacular success was achieved in terms of setting up more facilities and boosting the testing numbers.
Both the Centre and the state governments have won the battle against the torque of the virus spread. However, experts opine that the peak is yet to arrive. There is growing discontentment over an avoidable, longer ban on economic activity.
In fact, Coronavirus data justifies the restoration of near normal social and economic activity across the country barring a few highly contaminated zones. Even after 100 days, India has just over 1.75 lakh cases.
Doomsayers are comparing India with China while ignoring the reality that China is not an open society. India-baiters claim that the number of deaths has surpassed China’s where 4,634 out of the 83,000 reported cases comprise almost over five percent of the population. On the other hand, the Indian fatality rate is well under four percent as against 12 percent globally.
Over 75 percent of cases are confined to five states with around one third in Maharashtra alone. It is possible that India may witness a sharp spurt over the next couple of weeks as homebound migrant labourers move from domicile states.
India is being maligned as the ninth largest nation with COVID-19 cases, forgetting the fact that its infection rate is less than three per million.
China was the same. While the global figure is around 47 cases per million, Britain tops the list with 558 cases. Covid-19 has created more fear than death in India. No doubt, if not contained, it can wreak havoc on the ineffective infrastructure in rural India and metros like Delhi and Mumbai.
For example, Mumbai cannot provide enough space to the rising number of victims. In Delhi, the situation is macabre; over 100 corona corpses were piled up in a hospital mortuary because dedicated cremation centres were dysfunctional.
In many cities, innumerable suspected patients were turned away by hospitals or left to wait outside on the roads. Much of the chaos could be attributed to the shortage of manpower and failure of the supply chain.
As Lockdown 4.0 ends, it is time for us to live with this novel biological enemy, by treating it at par with flu, HIV, diabetics, cancer and TB.
During the past three months, ten times more patients have died of previous infections than from COVID-19. The world is yet to find a HIV vaccine.
Yet has learnt to live with it; there are over 37 million HIV patients in the world. According to research stats, India is expected to lose $26 billion (ten percent of the GDP) during the first quarter. Over 10 million migrant labourers have left their workplaces. The Indian economy is diving into negative growth.
The states don’t have the money to pay salaries. The Centre is unable to borrow from the market. There is hardly any employer who hasn’t either pruned staff or introduced pay cuts. Newspapers are printing sans advertisements.
Indian films stars are shooting solos about keeping fit at home. Shopkeepers are gazing at the empty doors through which only a few customers are walking in.
Manufacturing has come to a grinding halt. Both Reserve Bank of India and commercial banks are sitting over a Himalayan pile of cash, unwilling to melt even under Covid heat. Social media is the only entertainment and communication in the age of Social Distancing.
Abject poverty stares at a mildly sick India chafing under house arrest and challenges its survival. The nation needs to get its party mood back to kayo depression and tension.
Indians have shown unexpected discipline and fortitude. But they need to become productive assets. Trust them. Let them learn to accept the new environment.
India has to become Bharat again. As Mae West quipped, “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.” Indians know how to do it right and that too more than once.
Follow him on Twitter @PrabhuChawla