Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint
Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

Opinion | Panic will worsen the Covid-19 pandemic

It’s a matter of alarm that people have swarmed shops for their daily needs in defiance of India’s lockdown. How we’ll fare against the virus depends on us. We must stay

coronavirus, coronavirus pandemic, Covid-19, covid-19 outbreak, Covid-19 pandemic, coronavirus Panic, Narendra Modi, India lockdown, essential commodities, medicines, health emergency, health surveillance

At a time when we must hold our nerve, the country could have done without the unnerving scenes of stores in various cities being swarmed by people after Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared an all-India lockdown for 21 days. It began within moments of his address to the nation at 8pm on Tuesday and carried on the next day. The very idea of social distancing, the only way out of this Covid-19 crisis, seemed lost on crowds whose desperation for household provisions apparently got the better of good sense. Many of them did not even maintain orderly two-metre-plus gaps in queues, but elbowed each other and crushed ahead in a manner that could do nobody and nothing but the virus any good. If we fail to contain its contagion by staying homebound till mid-April, the price we would have to pay, as Modi warned in his speech, could be beyond all estimation. This was no exaggeration. Painful as it might be, restricting us to our homes was the only option. Yet, large numbers displayed a Pavlovian response, storming off to buy stuff at the sound of “lockdown". In a tweet on Tuesday night, the Prime Minister reiterated that “there is absolutely no need to panic", that “essential commodities, medicines etc would be available" and that “The Centre and various state governments will work in close coordination to ensure this." To limited avail, sadly.

Observers have long seen India as a nation with a deficiency of civic discipline, but the unruly rush seen in many a city suggests that a significant section lacks confidence in the state’s ability to help households keep going without running short of basic supplies. Perhaps details of a plan to deliver what people needed would have calmed them. Food items, cooking fuel, cleansing agents and medicines are not all that are in demand. Not only do diets differ, some are keen to know what degree of choice they would get to exercise with grocery lists, given that several private home delivery apps have reportedly had their services badly disrupted. The Centre has assured them of support, but local supply chains appear to have snapped in the chaos. Another anxiety is that little is known of the safety and logistical systems in place for the large-scale distribution of stuff, if it comes down to everyone being on a state feed of sorts. If it does, a task of such complexity may take Army personnel in hazmat suits working closely with manufacturers and commercial networks, their own staff similarly safeguarded. This would require clockwork operations, with huge amounts of data to be processed with due accuracy.

Citizens who still haven’t woken up to what the country confronts need to shake themselves up before it is too late. The disease is deadly and highly infectious. They must not lull themselves into a false sense of security. “It won’t happen to me," some seem to imagine. Sure it can. We are all at risk. Worse, we could imperil others, our loved ones included. Unless our curve of infection cases is flattened fast, we could yet go the way of Iran, Italy and the US, where a lax response to the outbreak looks set to exact a toll that will weigh heavily on their conscience. South Korea and China, which appear to have fared better, has combined severe social clamps with intense health surveillance, enabled by online tools that deprived citizens of their privacy. We in India will have to attack the virus our own way. For this, we the people must recognize this war-like situation for what it is. We must stay home. Our success right now is up to us.

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