Unprecedented responses to unprecedented disaster

India’s confirmation of its first positive case of novel coronavirus on January 30 coincides with the WHO declaration of the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern. In the hindsight, it emerged that already 21 countries including India had been hit by the virus. This possibly forced the WHO to undertake a course correction — the epidemic was upgraded to pandemic. Besides, the incumbent WHO’s DG has been at the receiving end of a global criticism. The prime charge against the organization is its failure in alerting before the virus spread, compelling major part of the planet to suffer a catastrophe of such magnitude. In retaliation, economic distancing from China is being contemplated by a few nations such as Japan, Taiwan, etc. Natural interest of the affected countries is to see accountability is fixed and justice is served in proportionate to the economic and human cost of the global crime. ICJ has moved to the UN demanding reparations from China for the lack of transparency in its initial strategy of containing the virus.

Back home, the Union government in a statement issued on March 29, 2020 listed out several measures taken up to contain the pandemic. India’s fight against Covid-19 menace is reportedly pursued with the authoritative support emanating from the first-hand feedback mechanism raised between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and various stakeholders, including State Governors, Lt. Governors, Chief Ministers, and Health Ministers. Fourteen-hour long janta curfew followed by a three-week nation-wide lockdown with further extension till May 3 have considerably reduced the risk of greater spread. The Prime Minister has relentlessly tried to prepare the nation for imbibing the mantra of “Resolve and Restraint” in order to fight the menace. Apart from regular meetings and consultations with high ranking government officials, Prime Minister’s constant interaction with selfless frontline fighters including disaster management experts, doctors, health care professionals, sanitation staff members from various corners of the country are part of this exercise. The Government’s repeated appeal to people against panic buying of rations and assuring them of constant supply of essential goods have worked well on ground. As and when extended risk zones emerge, concentric lockdown by identifying corona hotspots are under implementation.

Through its outreach endeavor, government undertook awareness campaigns for maintaining social distancing as the only known effective viral spread control measure and opened up feedback channels for gauging public mood. The Prime Minister has held discussions through video conferences with the heads of various electronic and print media groups and various radio jockeys and All India Radio announcers making an appeal to counter pessimism and panic through positive communication. Modi’s persuasive call for expression of nation’s gratitude to front line corona fighters through lighting lamps and composing sound fusions is considered by a few as a mere symbolic exercise. Significantly, it’s not just good optics but a trusted tool to ascertain the depth of mass approval behind government’s decisions.

Declaration of corona as a pandemic has elicited prompt response from Prime Minister Modi in regional and global spheres. Hosting a virtual meeting among SAARC leaders for a collaborative approach and pledging a 10 million USD corpus for the purpose was a timely initiative in the neighbourhood. Furthermore, G-20 members’ pledge for a united front in the fight against Corona for injecting 5 trillion USD into the global economy only echoed PM Modi’s appeal to the world leaders for collective march towards a new globalization in the shared interests of humanity. Indian government’s decision to export anti malaria drug (hydrochloroquine) to several countries including the US and Brazil is an appropriate diplomatic gesture, inviting appreciation from their highest lederships. As a major success, New Delhi managed to evacuate over 2,000 of its citizens and many other foreign nationals struck in the worst-hit zones of China, Italy, Iran and other parts of the world.

Providing economic safeguard to anti-corona campaign, Union Finance Minister led ‘Covid-19 Economic Response Task Force’ was created. Ordinance to surrender of 30% of Parliamentarian emoluments, voluntary remuneration foregoing by President, Vice President, state Governors and Lt. Governors, one month rent exemption from land lords to workers, formation of Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund, two year diversion of MPLAD  funds, three month moratorium in term loan repayment, financial package of Rs 1.7 lakh crore for emergency cash transfers and Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana for three month free supply of necessity items came as follow up support measures. RBI’s ecofriendly initiatives at this juncture is commendable.

Many other enabling measures helped the government in addressing the menace. The list includes rolling out blanket embargo on international flight operations, allowing concessions in statutory compliances under various enactments including Provident Fund Act, Essential Commodities Act (1955)  Amendment provisions, counter misinformation advisory by the Cyber Laws & Electronic Security Wing, installation of fact check portal by the I&B Ministry, custom duty exemption on import of ventilators, face and surgical masks, Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) & Covid-19 testing kits, etc.

Political and ideological differences did not deter the state governments in extending their crucial support to the various execution agencies entrusted with the task of beating corona virus down. Rather proactive steps on their part in terms of capacity augmentation, social distancing enforcement, essential commodities provisioning, reaching out to migrant workers, relaxing the ban for monsoon farming etc. complement the Union govenment’s initiatives. A unidirectional approach of the country’s federal set up has motivated the frontline corona fighters carrying out their responibiltes in adverse conditions and at times risking their own lives. Such cohesive endeavour has kept a relatively modest “infected and dead”- population ratio for India. Notably its corona containment success has received experts’ appreciation both within and outside the country including the WHO and Oxford University. Besides, recent ruling by the Supreme Court for free testing also reflects judicial alertness towards the country’s commitment for corona eradication.

The quest for a corona-free society through ‘physical distancing’ unfolds a chicken-egg type dilemma between life and livelihood before the governing class and the governed. A simultaneous pursuit of curative break through, preventive health care, life infrastructure provisioning, economic retention, governance optimization and above all development sustainability in the country requires a concerted effort from all stakeholders.