Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initiative involving SAARC nations in the battle against COVID-19 underlined the need for regional and global cooperation in dealing with the ongoing crisis. This is because an extended term for the epidemic will not only lead to a drastically higher mortality rate, but also impact the economy in unprecedented ways. The regional approach is necessary not just because of the interdependency in many ways, but also the similar cultures and their approach to social challenges. It has already been seen how the general public is either reacting in a paranoid manner to the problem, or almost entirely ignoring the threat. ‘Social distancing’, for instance, is an almost alien concept in the over-populated region of South Asia.
It is also not the time to let politics get in the way of cooperative action. Every country has something to contribute to the cause, while it is in the interest of all that the virus does not get out of control in any member nation, as it would impact in many ways on the others. India has rightly offered S&T assistance, as well as funds, to those who might need it. The region is mostly in the second stage of the pandemic and, this everybody needs to understand, the next stage is a sharp spike that in its impact will completely overwhelm the existing medical facilities. There is no choice but to curb the spread no matter what extreme measures are taken. Unfortunately, as seen in Dehradun where the local administration lapsed by permitting events such as the Jhanda Mela celebrations and a motorcycle rally by government employees, the seriousness of the threat is not being understood. One needs only to look at the situation in Italy, where the system will now need to make the tragic choice of selecting whom to exclude from treatment because of insufficient ventilators.
Apart from the hope that the coming summer heat will eliminate the virus and, soon, a vaccine would be developed to counter it, the only recourse is the simple choice common people need to make by accepting the ‘new normal’. While, in the first stage, it has afflicted the global jet-setting class, it threatens to percolate to the person in the street. This is where the battle will have to be fought – Indians and their neighbours will have to learn the skills of personal hygiene and responsible social behaviour with a speed quite alien to their temperament.