Post Mortem

Lives, livelihoods still far from safe

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 4/23/2021 12:33:13 PM IST

 The ‘Great Indian Lockdown’ that began on March 25, 2020, spanned 68 days. Initially announced for a period of 14 days, it was repeatedly extended to finally reveal the ‘Great Unlock’ on June 1, 2020. It was heralded as a pre-emptive masterstroke. Was it one? And is there a case for Lockdown 2.0?

At the first instance, the ‘Great Indian Lockdown’ was brandished as the ultimate tool that would eradicate COVID-19 from our shores. The citizens were asked for a few weeks, then a few weeks more and then some more to win the war against the virus. So while the obedient citizens believed what was being fed to them, they utilised their time making Dalgona coffee at home. They banged plates, lit candles and sacrificed their daily wages in the belief that they were being protected from the tentacles of a deadly virus. Time spent without social contact would vanquish the virus was the war cry, for some time.

As time passed, reality slowly dawned that the ‘Great Indian Lockdown’ in no way could extinguish the virus. The Government’s narrative conveniently changed to the lockdown being an instrument to prepare the health system to cope. Now, this made sense — a lot of sense. 

The obedient citizens never questioned this narrative, since it genuinely had a lot of merit to it. For the common man, the changing narrative explaining the reasons for the lockdown was immaterial as long as the end justified the means. A short crisp lockdown was probably the need of the hour in late March 2020 to better prepare the health infrastructure. There can hardly be a debate on this. But what explains the suddenness of it all when hospitals were empty and deaths a fraction of where we are today? What explains the painful and prolonged 68 days of being shut down? The only number the Government seemed to be bothered about then was the infection graph. Victory was declared by showing how our country fared so much better than the rest. 

If the ‘Great Indian Lockdown’ was about preparing the health system, then shouldn’t the nation have been served a graph of additional hospital beds, ventilators, oxygen capacity and the like to keep the citizens informed of the work being done to prepare for the worst? It is hard for normal folk to accept a mistake, and even harder for the Governments to do so. Rather than admitting to an error in judgement, a changed narrative from “let’s kill the virus” to “we are preparing the health system” worked as a convenient explanation. I, for one, hoped that the changed stance truly reflected the Government’s intent. Sadly, I was wrong.

Cut to the present. If the Government presumably acted prudently and helped prepare the health system in those 68 days and the ensuing period of another 200+ days since ‘Unlock 1’, then what explains the current mess? Even for the uninitiated, it simply means that the preparation was grossly inadequate and the forecasting even worse.  The time spent in lockdown and the time post-lockdown did little to prepare our health infrastructure for the tsunami facing us today. In such a case, what did the lockdown achieve? Very little. It did not vanquish the virus, it did not adequately prepare our health system but it definitely destroyed the livelihoods of millions. Personally, I have never been an advocate of lockdowns. Each one must evaluate one’s own risks and act accordingly by imposing a self-lockdown when required. However, if there is ever a greater reason and logic for a stringent lockdown, it is now. I have constantly maintained that lockdowns simply reduce the pace of spread of the virus. They never completely eradicate it or stop its spread. Thus, a lockdown is unfortunately necessary only and only when the health system is running at capacity. And it is running to more than capacity now. The time to save lives is now, not when our hospital capacity was chugging along at 30 per cent or so, in April 2020. With the hospitals bursting at seams, the Union Government in its wisdom thinks that lockdowns don’t help. Really? Wasn’t the ‘Great Indian Lockdown’ presented as the smartest move last year? Confusing to me.

If the March 2020 lockdown was not a mistake, it definitely cannot be a mistake in April 2021. However, since it does not seem to be a tool for the Government in the current crisis just yet, isn’t that an admission that it erred in March last year? The sad part is that they are erring again. However, this time, by not enforcing one. 

The happenings over the last year remind me of a game we played as children, called “musical chairs”. The Government seems to be caught on the wrong side of the chair each time the music stops playing. As most of us juggle multiple calls for help from family and friends, television grabs of religious ceremonies and election rallies seem to mock us. Do we deserve this? Who is to blame for our predicament? The virus, the Government’s response or us who cast our ballots — the 1.4 billion? Think hard about it.

Let’s hope and pray that lives as well as livelihoods are saved. Sadly, as it is playing out, it seems neither lives nor livelihoods are safe.

Ashish Ahuja

(The writer is ‘an ordinary concerned citizen’. The views expressed are personal.)

 

Launched on December 3,1990. Nagaland Post is the first and highest circulated newspaper of Nagaland state. Nagaland Post is also the first newspaper in Nagaland to be published in multi-colour.

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