Brushing coronavirus under the carpet, eh?

Govt is busy doing other things. We’re changing CMs, rearranging our Cabinet shelves with elections in mind. We're being presented with new reasons to hail the emperor while the virus is still there

Uttarakhand's Nainital, Mussoorie see massive tourist footfall as COVID restrictions ease. (Photo Courtesy: Twitter/@drsuperstar1680)
Uttarakhand's Nainital, Mussoorie see massive tourist footfall as COVID restrictions ease. (Photo Courtesy: Twitter/@drsuperstar1680)

Ranjona Banerji

Tourists are flooding into holiday destinations, particularly evident in hills stations in the state where I live. A short foray into town yesterday indeed revealed huge traffic on the road to Mussourie, mainly tourist buses, taxis and cars with number plates from neighbouring states. For the first time in 18 months, there were cars parked outside roadside eateries, and an increase in the numbers of roadside vendors whether selling litchis, pots for plants or carved wooden clocks.

There was also a lot of outrage. Videos of crowds of people in close proximity and no masks getting wet at Kempty Falls, people walking down the mall in Nainital emphasize the complete lack of responsibility. The government has called this “revenge travel” and urged people to be careful.

The need for caution is paramount. We are still grossly under-vaccinated in India, even if we have in terms of numbers crossed populations of several other nations. Covid-19 has not gone away. In fact, the Delta variant is problematic the world over, given than it is very infectious. The only defence appears to be vaccination. With only about 4 % of Indians double vaccinated, we are nowhere close to putting up a suitable defence.

From March 2020 when the lockdowns began and the rollercoaster we’ve been on since, curbs on normal life have become unbearable. Very few of us are able to live isolated lives exclusively on social media. Very few of us can afford to. Those with families, children especially, have been under severe stress. The wonder of online classes became a horror last year itself. In 2021, it’s something of a joke. The unprecedented nature of this pandemic and the strength of the virus has stretched us to capacity.

When you factor in the horrendous cost of bad healthcare, death and suffering and the huge loss of income and earning, you have to understand that it’s not just about “revenge” but of searching desperately for freedom. While irresponsibility is not forgivable, it is understandable. And it is from there, that an effective strategy can be built.

Of course, this is where the wheels fall off the plan. If there is a plan. The irresponsibility in India, as in other nations, starts at the top. It comes from mixed messaging. It comes from lack of help, financial and practical for the bulk of a helpless population. It comes from allowing impossible strain on already strained health facilities. It comes from lying to the people to protect yourself. And then using tokens and gestures to placate your followers.

Some nations managed to pull themselves back from the abyss. Because they listened to experts, faced harsh reality and made adequate preparations for what was to come.

We spent all of 2020 being lied to, lying to ourselves and doing little to prepare for what was to come. There were warning signs and clear warnings that the virus was not going away soon in 2020 itself. And yet we blithely entered 2021 believing all was soon going to be back to normal. Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced to the world that India had vanquished the virus. Some parts of India believed him. Whose fault is that?

The manner in which elections were held in March and April was the most massive example of gross irresponsibility from India’s political and official classes. Add to that the Kumbh Mela, the upcoming Kanwar Yatra and you can see why people would rush to tourist destinations and throw their masks to the wind. Do as I say and not as I do has never worked as a disciplinary strategy.

So yes, if you open up tourist destinations before you put safety protocols in place, disaster will ensue. The onus is on the administration, not just on the people. There is a desperation to earn money, to not die of starvation, to get out of your house, to deal with restive children. Yes, people can and will be reckless. Have we just discovered that?

But of course, our governments have been busy doing other things. We’re changing chief ministers, with elections in mind. We’re rearranging our Cabinet shelves with elections in mind. We’re letting out our hate-spewing bigots to target minorities with elections in mind.

We should be focusing on healthcare and vaccination. But as you can see, both have shifted – or have been shifted – to the back of the news cycles. The virus is still here but we’re presented with new reasons to all hail the emperor and his coterie. The virus as we see is not impressed.

(Views are personal)

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