The roads are stranded, the markets are empty and there is a lingering silence in the air. Yes, as I undertake a walk across multiple neighbourhoods in the country’s capital, I am faced with a strange absence, a quietness born out of fear and panic and an uncertainty for tomorrow.
Yes, the coronavirus pandemic and large number of deaths that it has claimed across the world has indeed taken a central seat in the public imagination and the media has only put more fuel to the fire.
Masks and sanitisers are no longer available at medical stores due to the panic circling the outbreak of the coronavirus, the rumours doing the rounds amidst the public also suggest the possibility of a shortage of essential commodities in the market in weeks to come if the coronavirus pandemic isn’t controlled.
The Indian government has been scrambling to lock down public amenities such as theatres, malls, schools, offices, pubs etc in a drive to contain the coronavirus and to discourage people from going outdoors. Offices have been shut down and employers are asking their employees to work from home, schools have been closed and examinations have been postponed, trains and flights are being cancelled in large numbers and public transport has been severely hit.
While the media has bombarded people with the fear around the disease and cautioned them to adorn medical masks and make frequent use of sanitisers and avoid public gatherings, it is interesting to note how difficult it is to bar people from venturing outdoors in a heavily populated country such as India.
Housewives enjoying a quick chat on a park bench, children playing badminton or cricket, the elderly sitting over cups of tea at a local eatery and the youth clicking selfies outside tourist spots such as the India Gate aren’t rare visuals even today, although their intensity and frequency may have drastically been affected.
It has been interesting to note that to both India’s east and west, countries have been severely impacted by the coronavirus and yet it has remained relatively unscathed.
India is the world’s second most populous country and 1.3 billion people reside in India. So far about 137 cases of the coronavirus have been reported from India.
The fact that unlike its neighbours it has remained largely unaffected by coronavirus so far, is both fortunate as well as surprising. While some people feel that the coronavirus scare is overhyped, there are some who fear that if the coronavirus where to take a similar turn to what it has taken in the neighbouring countries, it would prove quite disastrous.
Perhaps, one of the important reasons why India has so far managed to remain largely unscathed by the coronavirus is that it has taken precautionary measures right from the beginning.
India was also one of those first countries which closed its borders, and engaged in cancelling visas ad denying entry to all but a select few foreigners. Some states like Kerala are also beginning to beef up internal borders, taking the temperature of passengers on cars and screening people on trains.
However, what is important to note here is the fact that these containment measures have not been enough and in recent days, more than a dozen suspected carriers of the coronavirus fled loosely guarded isolation wards.
Maharashtra has recorded the largest number of cases in India and here too, more than 15 patients have escaped isolation wards. Most of these patients were later caught and taken back to the hospital. While most if not all of India’s coronavirus cases have come through travellers-a group of Italian tourists making a visit to Rajasthan was responsible for single-handedly spreading it to many more people.
Many public health experts in India fear the spread of coronavirus in India because of the possibility of large scale community transmissions and the fact that we already have a poor sanitation infrastructure and a poor healthcare mechanism.
Overcrowding, heavy population density, lack of sanitation and hygiene and improper medical care put India at an enhanced risk of being affected by the coronavirus.
Yes, schools, offices, swimming pools, theatres and restaurants are being shut down. Weddings and other public gatherings are being banned and for the first time in India’s history, the Taj Mahal has been shutdown for the public for fifteen days- the country indeed is looking at coronavirus in the eye.
But despite all these measures, people continue to venture outside their homes and roads continue to witness extensive traffic jams, though these places may be a little more deserted. Meanwhile, political parties are hosting “cow urine drinking parties” and emphasising on the alleged anti-coronavirus benefits of cow urine.Other party leaders are continuing to hold large rallies, with people flocking in.
Poultry markets are being greatly hit as many Indians believe that consumption of chicken can cause coronavirus The whole sale prices of chicken have almost gone down by 50% as misinformation has circulated on social media that eating chicken or other meats can cause coronavirus.
Many government agencies have come forward and told people that there is no link between eating chicken and getting infected by coronavirus, but this surely hasn’t helped.
As I walk down the roads of my city, I smell panic and helplessness, I notice the uncertainty in the eyes of every masked face. TV channels are making noise and medical stores are running out of sanitiser and mask stocks and isolation wards in our hospitals look scantily equipped- but its time to draw the line between panic and precaution and discourage the fear industry from taking charge of our lives. In times of coronavirus, it is time to reclaim our collective sanity.