In what may be described as the first phase in India’s response to the Covid pandemic, the decisions were taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Union Government. The measures taken, including difficult lockdowns and other restrictions, were successful in limiting the pandemic’s spread, keeping the infection and fatality rate down to manageable levels. All this time, the Centre was faced with not just the actual challenge but the criticism of opposition leaders, who demanded that the response be decentralised and greater powers be granted to the chief ministers. Gradually, the approach changed and the Centre restricted itself to issuing general guidelines for the states, as its focus shifted to implementing the vaccination programme. Even this has been criticised by many, ranging from politicians to self-appointed experts who otherwise do not command influence even on the street outside their home.
Now that the second phase is upon us – largely because the general public forgot very quickly the lessons learned during the lockdown – it is time for the state governments to step up with their responses. It is an opportunity for every chief minister to display their quality of leadership and is also a competition to show who does better. A lot of blame is being cast on super-spreader events like Holi and, presently, the ongoing elections and the Kumbh. It must be remembered, however, that all of these require the voluntary participation of people. It is actually the opposite of a general lockdown. Nobody is forcing people to attend election rallies or participate in the Kumbh. The present situation emerged because of the economic need to return to normal, as well as a misplaced confidence that the pandemic had been defeated. Even when the vaccination programme was initiated, the most vulnerable – the elderly – were hesitant to turnout. Now, there is a rush on realising that the worst is not over. (In Uttarakhand, over ninety percent of fatalities are of those in the plus 55 range.)
The answer lies very simply on the response at the individual level. People should go about their daily lives by establishing a safe zone around them, and also influencing others to do the same. Short term emergency measures such as the ones being undertaken in the hard hit states can only be temporary in nature. If they do not work, economic compulsions will force an opening up. Take responsibility, individually, and be free. Don’t look to others, be an example yourself!