India responded overwhelmingly to the Prime Minister’s call for a Janata Curfew on March 22. The PM has an ingenious ability to deploy Mahatma Gandhi’s model of converting every issue into a mass movement. While only soldiers are involved in the battle during wartime, the current fight requires the participation of every citizen. Sunday’s Janata Curfew was an effort to create mass awareness and most importantly, mass participation, in our fight against the lethal coronavirus.
Every balcony, window, door reverberated with the sound of taalis and thaalis (claps and plates) across the country to show solidarity and express gratitude to the health and sanitation workers and state officials. What was most heartening to see was the participation from political leaders across party lines, an indicator that India has truly risen as one. The Delhi government’s decision of extending Ayushman Bharat to its people is also a welcome move.
However, people must understand that the one-day Janata curfew was the precursor to a minimum 21-day-long nation-wide quarantine, which was announced by the PM on Tuesday evening.
The day after the Janata Curfew, it seemed like it was business as usual in many cities. People ventured out for matters which are not more important than their and their loved one’s health. It is amusing to see videos of large groups congregating at liquor shops. It is an indication that many have not yet understood the gravity of the battle. Now as part of the lockdown, those who defy the order will be dealt with strictly. If need be, the Army must be pressed into service to enforce the lockdown.
Many public health experts suggest that the ideal lockdown period should be five weeks, which makes the 21-day lockdown period all the more appropriate. They say that anybody who has contracted the virus will recover in three weeks. Anyone who comes into contact with them, like family members, will subsequently develop the infection and recover in the following two to three weeks. In such a scenario, by the end of five weeks, everyone will be free from the infection. Since the virus will not live outside the body, India would have practically removed the virus from the country.
On the other hand, if we let the virus get out of control like in Italy, it will become difficult to contain in a densely-populated country like India. The chances of the elderly surviving the pandemic will not be bright even if India manages to get a large number of ventilators.
The government has been effective and direct in its communication to citizens. As on March 18, the government worked on sending 70 lakh emails on MyGov, 20 lakh push notifications, publishing 624 newspaper ads and did much else to inform the public about lockdowns. It delivered 235 crore informative SMSes about the coronavirus and ensured that a caller tune in Hindi, English and 11 regional languages serves as a statutory warning before a person places any phone call. The Union Ministry for Health and Family Welfare has worked with the Indian Council of Medical Research to develop protocols for evolving scenarios, preparing for the inevitable. Surveillance of patients under home quarantine — which has risen from 70,000 people to nearly double the number — will now be strict. Those found violating the direction will be booked under IPC Sections 188 and 270 along with relevant sections of the Epidemic Disease Act, 1897. Those found violating the lockdown will also be punished.
Meanwhile, I have set up a Bengaluru South Coronavirus Task Force, in association with the Bengaluru Police, to enrol volunteers to attend to senior citizens and vulnerable sections.
There is no doubt that both the domestic and global economy will take a severe beating. The Prime Minister’s Economic Response Task Force, headed by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, has a serious task ahead. However, this is the time when the PM’s JAM (Jan Dhan, Aadhaar and Mobile) trinity will be a gamechanger in providing direct benefit transfers to the most vulnerable sections. The government must also look at deferring loan payments, announcing economic stimulus packages, including recapitalisation with zero-interest loans, to the worst-hit sectors and extending personal tax slabs to ensure people will have more money in their hands.
State governments have also announced special packages to address the economic disruption caused for daily wage workers and other temporary staff in different establishments. A lot more needs to be done.
This is the time for the country to display exemplary community self-discipline, a quality found wanting in times of distress. As the PM put it, sankalp and sayyam (resolve and restraint) will help us overcome this challenge. This is a fight where if humanity wins, we win. If you have a maid, let her continue her job but allow her to stay at her home for a few weeks. If you are an entrepreneur, do not cut down your staff. Let us turn this into a win-win situation. Let us pledge to lead by example.
The best news that has come out in the last several days is that there are no new cases reported out of China after a successful lockdown of the Hubei province. Vaccination is a long way off and so are curative medicines. Until then, the best cure that we have is quarantine, isolation, social distancing and lockdowns. For god’s sake, stay home!
The writer is a BJP MP, representing Bengaluru South. This article first appeared in the March 26 print edition under the title ‘Citizens on the frontline
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