The whole-hearted response to Prime Minister Modi’s call for a ‘Janata Curfew’, and five minutes of appreciation for those manning essential services, on Sunday indicates the people are on the same page as him on the urgency of dealing with the danger posed by the Corona Virus. Although the numbers, thus far, of deaths and infected persons are low in India as compared to several other countries, the potential for disaster is much greater simply because of the large population and poor quality of medical services. While the curfew will have served to build up resolve among the people to counter the threat and a preparedness to take on the difficulties yet to come, the state governments around the country have also instituted various stages of lockdown to prevent spread of the virus.
On Sunday, itself, another decision was taken to cease services of passenger trains till 31 March, keeping in view the large crowds of migrant workers heading home from the big cities because of the lockdowns. This would check the possible transmission of the virus to the unaffected areas in other parts of the country. More such harsh measures can be expected in the coming days unless the virus shows signs of slowing down. By mid-afternoon on 22 March, the number of deaths had gone up to seven and new cases were also being reported. The good news was that, in a large number of suspected victims – owing to irresponsible behaviour by carriers – reports had come out negative.
The logical next step now is to expand the testing to a larger number of suspected patients and make arrangements for their treatments. This requires making available the wherewithal for the same – particularly much needed ventilators. Private laboratories are being permitted in phased manner to conduct tests and private hospitals being involved in a more expanded way. The danger with this is that unscrupulous elements will be happy to declare and expensively ‘treat’ patients that are actually not affected by the virus. Such rackets are already the norm in a number of other ailments.
The simultaneous challenge for the government is dealing with the impact on the already challenged economy of this unprecedented crisis. Industry is already knocking on the doors of the government for a number of concessions and stimuli. It has, however, not spelled out what steps it has taken on its own. State governments are having to provide financial support to laid-off workers, which ought to be the responsibility of the employers. In the future, once things return to normal, government must get the various sectors of the economy to cooperate in the creation of a social security network for workers. The nation must learn the good lessons from the crisis.