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Let us recall what happend exactly one year ago, the days with a lot of apprehensions and terror. Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for a janata curfew on 22 March. The wheels of the entire country were halted that day, shops shuttered down, all the machines in factories across the country suddenly stopped and the people themselves decided to pause every activity, barring essential services. The PM had called for five minutes of clapping, beating thalis, and blowing shankhs (conch shells) to support the health workers, police forces and people delivering essential services. Apparently, he was mentally preparing the country’s hoi polloi for the coming days.

Horrifying news was coming in from across the world. Wuhan in China had established its identity as the city from which a virus originated and became the cause of trouble for the entire world. Europe and America were drowning in panic, but the situation in India was not as bad, hence, the janata curfew was considered an effort to prepare the people. It is a different matter that some well-meaning people had started stockpiling daily essentials at home. However, even they didn’t know that it all had to go a long way. Finally, when the lockdown was announced on 24 March, no one could have imagined that for the next 68 days they had to be locked up inside their homes. However, the pandemic was more ruthless for those unfortunate people who didn’t even have a home. People living in the slums and chawls of metros became unemployed in one stroke. From their homeland, thousands of kilometres away, they had come to cities with a dream of a better life and suddenly all had gone haywire. For the next few days, we saw caravans of people leaving metros, such as Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad and Bengaluru, returning to the same villages they had left a long time ago. Those were the days of disillusionment.

People often accuse the government of snatching the jobs of these people by imposing a drastic lockdown. However, they forget that in a country like India, where health services are not fully equipped and inadequate, there was no other way to save the lives of people from this global pandemic. This logic seemed convincing to some as by that time a total of 536 cases of infection had been confirmed and only 10 people in a country with a population of about 1.35 billion had lost their lives because of the pandemic. It was being said that more people were getting killed in road accidents in the country. In a way they were right, but the world’s most prestigious research institutes feared that the toll in a densely populated developing country such as India could be in millions.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson even said in his parliament that we should be ready to lose some of our loved ones, though till a few days earlier he was making fun of covid-19 with then US President Donald Trump. During those days, we saw some disturbing pictures from the US, where corpses were being buried by digging a long piece of land in the shape of the circular canal as there was no space left in cemeteries. At such a time, the apprehensions expressed by sceptics about India were intimidating. Today, a year later, India’s figures prove them wrong. So far, 11.3 million people have officially fallen victim to this virus and 159,000 people have lost their lives. With condolence for those people, I would like to say that the relative death rate in India is around 1%, which is much lower than the world’s rich and well-to-do economies.

Was this possible without a lockdown? Besides, it was not that the government went to sleep after imposing the lockdown. Till 31 March 2020, only 183 labs were available for virus detection across India. Today, over 2,400 laboratories are equipped to do so. Hospitals, too, were not prepared for such pandemics. During this time, Modi himself took command and interacted with chief ministers over several rounds, encouraged health workers, and kept in touch with vaccine researchers continuously. This is the reason why India, despite its limitations, stood in the frontline of the vaccine-developing countries. Today, we are providing the vaccine to about 72 countries. This fight is still on. During this period, despite the political differences, the governments at the Centre and in states set a unique example of synergy. For those who keep questioning the federal structure of India, now it can tell them that the past one year is a living example of our resolve and instincts of unity. There might be many unfortunate examples that came out in terms of social, economic and ethical behaviour, but there is no doubt that in the past one year the citizenry showed an amazing ability to move forward despite pain and suffering. Covid-19 has given us a drastic economic shock, but it is also a fact that India has succeeded in coming out of recession. This process can gain momentum only when the world is completely free from clutches of covid-19. It is impossible to predict any timeline as the pandemic has picked up again. To cope with this, it is necessary to follow all standard operating procedures. Of late, we have been very lax about social distancing and other disciplines. We know that a pandemic cannot be stopped only by the government’s efforts. There is only one way to deal with it. Everyone has to be alert and at all times.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. The views expressed are personal

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