COVID-19 wave over two months old, but govt as unprepared as when pandemic hit country last year

Officials are using vague terms such as ‘stringent measures’ to describe curbs being placed ostensibly to fight the disease, but many fear the effect on economy would be similar to that of a lockdown

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Gyan Pathak

Let us not quarrel on the words, the vague terms that the Modi government officials are using. Vague terms give them and their supporters great freedom in explaining whatever they want to unlike the ‘clear terms’ in which they fear they may be caught. That is why when ‘relocking’ started at a time when the unlocking was yet not complete, the government calls them only ‘stringent measures’, though in reality they are not less than lockdowns. By using such clever words, the government may easily shed its responsibility of protecting the lives of people whom they lockdown without the means of survival, such as migrant labours.

The government is mostly talking about ‘stringent measures’, ‘saving lives from COVID-19’, all in such terms that only scholars with the government at the helm of affairs can speak or understand. People understand differently. For example, people understand that it is beyond the capacity of the government to provide vaccines to all, which the government tried to conceal by saying ‘vaccination isn’t open to all but only to those who need it”. People think, if there is “vaccine hesitancy”, provide the doses to those who are willing or want it.

The government said the “aim is not to inculcate all those who want to get vaccinated”. Even then, shortages of vaccines were reported at several inoculation centres and there is also growing demand for it.

People find faults with the vaccination drive plan, while the government said what it decided is final. People are at the government’s mercy, and the officials are highly opinionated and seem to not have time to see what is happening on the ground level. Since they don’t have clarity on the actual situation, they have been using the vague terms.

“There are two aims of such vaccination drives – to prevent deaths and protect healthcare system,” said the Union Health Secretary. It is an indirect admission of the fact that our healthcare system is fragile and therefore needs protection. Protection from what? Being overwhelmed by large number of patients.

Even after one year of lockdown, the government did not sufficiently enhance the healthcare system. As for deaths, people know that a majority of them occur because of lack of beds with oxygen or ICU facilities.

However, big and vague terms are still used. We heard the other day about finding double mutation of the virus a matter of “grave concern”. NITI Aayog member (Health) said that the narrative has to been in a scientific way. It is too much for a common man to understand scientifically what is “grave concern”. Even Indian Medical Association does not understand such a language and has suggested in a letter to the Prime Minister that vaccination be allowed for all people above the age of 18 years.

Chief Ministers of Delhi, Punjab, and Maharashtra had also urged the Centre to relax the age limit for their states which are worst affected in the present wave of COVID-19.

People understand that the real reason is the shortage of vaccines, not their lack of scientific understanding of unscientific vague terms, such as “serious cause of concern” in the country, “very serious concern in Maharashtra”, “grave concern” in six states”, particularly “worrying” in three states, “raised concerns” in 11 states, and so on. The list of vague terms may be too long to reproduce here.

The whole government narrative is to show that it is doing everything to save live of the people. Concerns are never categorically stated in all dimensions, but they expect people to understand everything along with their vague words as “considering”, “seriously considering” or “decided” of doing something. The words have different meanings at the government level and on ground level.

The audacity of the government can be seen in its statement that everybody is not required to be tested when people pointed out that the government has drastically reduced even testing which ultimately hampered tracking and treating patients. People could not understand the government narrative ‘scientifically’ but knew this much that whenever testing would peak up again, the number of patients would rise sharply.

Testing was highest in mid-September, which got reduced to its lowest in February, when the new COVID-19 wave began to break all records in daily infection since the lockdown imposed on March 24, 2020.

The government’s narrative puts all the blame on the public that they were not following the advisory on Covid appropriate behaviour, while it was government inaction and permission for gatherings without Covid appropriate behaviour that’s really responsible. In many cases, even ministers up to the level of Prime Minister were found addressing such reckless gatherings. Only ‘advisories’ were issued.

Now when the situation is going from bad to worse, the government has said that the next four weeks are most crucial. The Union government has issued directions to the state government for enforcing stringent measures. Several cities in the country are now under night curfews and weekend lockdown which the Union government has said do not work.

Educational institutions, restaurants, hotels, malls, market, parks, cinema halls, and several other public places have been closed. Transportations and logistics have been severely restricted affecting the movement of people and goods. It is what we have seen during lockdown, without the word “lockdown” which would have some ethical pressure on the government, for if it locks a person down, then his survival is government’s responsibility.

Nobody exactly knows the sufferings of the common people, especially the migrant workers, in this second wave of COVID-19, and locking up the economy one by one. What are then the means of their survival? Especially when they have already spent all their savings to survive the first wave of COVID-19? Millions of migrant labour had left their places of work to head home last year, a majority on foot before skeleton transport service were restored. Hundreds of them had lost their lives while returning home. Many of them have lost their jobs permanently.

Those who have somehow returned are not even protected by sufficient earnings or even medical facilities because everybody knows they are victims of non-supply of essential documents, even an appointment letter. It blocks their access not only to medical facilities but also financial support. Now they are being blamed for even spread of the present wave of COVID-19. It means they may now even face physical threat of being attacked by the locals. The government needs to protect them and if required provide them with safe passage home in other states.

Since the financial year 2021-22 has just begun, all the Budget provisions, even those that are too little to handle the migrant crisis, have not implemented yet. It would take time, perhaps months.

Among the big things about which the government has been telling us, the measures about the means of survival of people in general, and the migrant labours in particular is absent.

People are not being told how they can survive during the relocking of the economy, and how the government is there to help them in their needs. We have only vague assurances of ‘government help’ and ‘protection’ flowing from the top downwards, which never reaches the majority of the people on the ground level. Migrant workers are again without jobs and without help wherever the economy has been relocked.

The new wave is now over two months old. Why then is there such a horrible unpreparedness on the part of the government? Lockdown is as painful as in any other name. The immediate task is saving lives medically, and also through providing means of sustaining lives economically. Both require provisions in clear terms along with opportunity to access them.

(IPA Service)

Views are personal

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