Coronavirus: States, Centre must work together to prevent catastrophe

Updated: Mar 23, 2020, 07:29 IST | Dharmendra Jore | Mumbai

Lack of coordination, delays and confusion over handling the outbreak of Coronavirus, have us staring at a possible COVID-19 transmission to the country's hinterland and an economic meltdown; it is time the governments reassured the most vulnerable

Scott Kelly
Scott Kelly

Dharmendra JoreScott Kelly, a retired NASA astronaut, who spent nearly a year on the international space station, wrote while sharing tips on isolation in The New York Times on Saturday, "Seen from space, the Earth has no borders. The spread of the Coronavirus is showing us that what we share is much more powerful than what keeps us apart, for better or for worse. All people are inescapably interconnected, and the more we can come together to solve our problems, the better off we will all be. I've seen humans work together to prevail over some of the toughest challenges imaginable, and I know we can prevail over this one if we all do our part and work together as a team."

It seems we, in India, did not do our part when demanded the most. Sadly, some aren't doing their part even when the pandemic has knocked on their doors. We did not move as quickly and delayed working as a team in the initial stages of the spread that now threatens to peak beyond one's imagination.

We showed no compassion towards others when we ignored repeated requests for social distancing. A concern that "I-might-get-infected-if-I-go-out" didn't turn into a dreaded fear till restrictions were enforced and the violators booked. What proved criminal was "so-what-if-I-infect-others" attitude of the travellers who took trains and buses despite knowing that they were to be compulsorily quarantined.

But before that compulsion came into force, a lack of coordination between the State and the Centre had caused major damage in Maharashtra. It has emerged that Dubai, which sent Maharashtra maximum infected travellers, wasn't included in the list of countries for mandatory screening at the airports. Being the main transit hub for global travellers and middle-class Indians' tourist destinations, Dubai should have been there in the first list itself. And now with the country's highest positive cases, Maharashtra has imported maximum infection from Dubai than other foreign destinations. The number is mounting fast.

This isn't a pessimist view but we must understand that the mistakes and the confusion created thereafter in correcting the wrong course are expected to cost the country more than anything. Concerned that hasty decisions would create panic, the governments took time to enforce restrictions like halting trains and other public transport. The complicated decisions lacked clarity and added to the chaos.

The infection, having an epicentre in the urban areas like Mumbai and Pune, may just have travelled to the hinterland through a workforce of several lakh that fled the cities before Indian Railways shut its nation-wide operations fully on Sunday midnight. We haven't heard of the states that will host the natives bracing up for the serious transmission threat. We also don't know whether the states the migrants left have shared travellers' data with their counterparts. One northern state did act swiftly in an incident involving senior politicians and celebrities. Will it and other neighbouring states act as swiftly and efficiently for their poor sons of the soil?

It was beyond comprehension why Mumbai's suburban train shutdown didn't happen early despite experts saying that the crammed train bogies posed more danger than workplaces. The long-distance train shutdown was also announced in the garb of 'Janata Curfew', without thinking much about heavy crowding of the stations that defied social distancing norms. Each train carried thrice its capacity. Imagine the transmission-friendly cattle class conditions.

The fear is that we might be replicating Italy where deaths are mounting and not China where COVID-19 originated and was also contained. On screening and testing front, we are way behind countries like South Korea. More private labs and hospitals in India were approved for screening and testing only on March 21. In Mumbai, 16 private and public hospitals (eight each) were allowed to screen and collect swabs but not permitted to test samples; 24x7 screenings centres have been increased at public hospitals. Single-test cost has been capped at Rs 4,500. The state government plans to put up some labs in the next 10 days.

For governments, the Centre, in particular, the public and country's economic healthcare have become priorities at the same time. The pandemic may bring us another pre-independence-like recession, say experts, adding that the recession will hit society across classes, just like a non-discriminatory COVID-19 did it to us without identifying our nationality, creed, caste and religion.

The country's masters will have to work out a plan for all who may survive the pandemic, but will not be able to sustain its economic aftermath. Be it individuals, families and sectors that create jobs and revenue. It is time incentives were declared, instructions issued and polices announced to reassure people of their means of living, albeit in struggle till the good times return.

The weekend, Sunday in particular, established the people's resolve of being together even amid social distancing and reaffirmed a sense of participation in the efforts of individuals and agencies that are working 24x7 to keep us safe. With people's guarantee, it's time New Delhi and respective state capitals also showed extraordinary resolve to fight the war together.

Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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