Herald View: Even two years after the pandemic, politics not science inspiring panic

If Governments wants to reassure people, they must communicate clearly evidence based scientific facts. It is poor consolation to be told that the situation is worse in Europe or in New York

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Representative image
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Herald View

Two years after the Prime Minister declared that a three-week harsh lockdown would beat the coronavirus and one year after he boasted that India had beaten the virus, there were still 500 million unvaccinated Indians this week.

Only 62 percent of Indians, according to official claims, had been fully vaccinated and less than one percent of the positive cases had been ‘genome sequenced’ to determine the variant. What is more, Indians continue to be fleeced by private players pushing all kinds of cures, including an exorbitantly priced Covid cocktail.

Governments, which were expected to ramp up health infrastructure and facilities, seem to be spending enormous amounts of public money in publicity and in setting up temporary facilities to cope with the anticipated rush of cases in the ‘third wave’. But the bottom line remains that even if one percent of a city’s population need to be tested and hospitalized, the health facilities would crumble.

But the virus seems to have been kind so far and Indians, thanks to overcrowded living conditions, seem to have developed immunity to the Delta variant. The Omicron variant is luckily confined to the upper respiratory tract and is not doing damage to organs like the lungs. However, we were short of doctors, nurses, technicians, paramedics, oxygen, ambulances and ventilators etc. at the beginning of the pandemic. Two years after the pandemic, the situation does not appear to be better.

What is even more unfortunate is that Governments seem to have failed even in areas where they need not have failed. Regulators and the health ministry were expected to communicate clearly about the risks, enforce uniformity in rates for tests, hospitalization etc. and ensure quality. They were expected to lay down standards of quality and communicate them clearly. Quality of masks, ventilators and vaccines needed to be fixed. But the distrust remains deep and people suspicious of what they hear from Governments, relying instead on the word-of-mouth and WhatsApp forwards. In these circumstances, it was not surprising to find the Union Health Secretary this week reassuring people that conditions are far worse in Europe and in New York.

Politicians seem to have also realised that the virus can be used as a political weapon. They seem to have realised that pandemics become endemic, that people develop natural immunity through infections or through vaccines and that the cycle would peak and peter off within eight to ten weeks in any case, no matter what governments do, or don’t.

In the meanwhile, they can use the virus to selectively impose restrictions, take punitive action against people and places of their choice, impose restrictions that suit them and even defer elections, if needed.

Despite experts across the world unanimous in saying that lockdowns are at best a temporary reprieve, governments in India continue to fall back, ridiculously so, on night curfews and weekend curfews. Lockdowns and ‘Work from Home’ are the twin prescriptions that Governments are routinely holding out to deal with the situation. As usual, a large number of exemptions are being routinely allowed, betraying the declared purpose and with little clarity on what constitutes a large gathering.

Politicians have also continued to send out mixed and conflicting messages to the people by advising people to be cautious, restricting their movement and not make the mistake of taking the infection as just common cold, while ignoring the restrictions themselves. Two years after the pandemic, we may have discovered new jargons and a fresh meaning to ‘positivity’ but evidence-based science dictating decisions is still missing.

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