Even as daily figures indicate a level of stabilisation in Covid-19 figures across India, the situation in Uttarakhand is not at all sanguine. Even with the poor testing rates, the number of cases is on the rise, with fatalities averaging between ten and twelve per day. This is not at all a good indication for a state that has a relatively small population in a large geographical area. Given the distances, it was expected that the hill districts would largely remain clear of the pandemic. However, that has not been the case.
Quite obviously, one reason is the state government’s initial push against the virus having lost its energy. There does not seem to be a well considered overall strategy anymore, with knee jerk responses such as the weekly ‘shutdown’ taking its place. It is true that the challenge is on many fronts, with opening up of the markets and industry, influx of tourists, greater movement between states, etc., but does it mean that the authorities should just give up? Things are only likely to get worse after the decision to reopen institutions of higher education from 15 December.
Going by the utterances of some BJP leaders, hope is being pinned now on the arrival of a vaccine, optimistically projected in the month of January. This is highly unlikely and an escape from responsibility. The state government seems to have moved on to other issues, particularly preparation for the coming assembly elections. This has involved large gatherings of party activists with little regard for social distancing.
The solution is basically a simple one – enforcement of protocols on mask wearing and physical distancing in every sphere of activity. This requires going into overdrive in, both, developing public awareness and punitive action against defaulters. At the present, there is wide disparity to be seen in the adherence to norms. Some establishments and citizens are abiding by the rules in exemplary fashion, but others have thrown caution entirely to the winds. It doesn’t help to shutdown on one day of the week if everybody goes crazy on the other six! The government must assert its authority on the ground. The present half-way approach based more on appearances and lip-service than on actual performance will not do.