As the Covid pandemic is still active around the world, with many countries showing rising numbers and surges or waves, all are facing the same conundrums and difficulties. There is a kind of Covid lassitude that has crept in, as well as genuine fear of catching the disease. At the same time though, the repetition of the cycle of lockdowns and lifting them has introduced a worrying element of uncertainty in people’s lives, in all aspects: work-at-place or work-at-home, children’s educational timelines and attendant delays, livelihoods and loss of jobs, leisure and the essential socializing that is the very raison-d’être of being in the form of cultural or family events, or national events that bring people together across the board and foster a sense of nationhood.
This means to say that collectively we are losing out on a lot of tangibles and intangibles that give meaning to our lives.
Under these circumstances, it is to be expected that patience will begin to draw thin, but also that different stakeholders will feel the need to make themselves heard.
Three weeks ago the Prime Minister had come on television and announced a second total lockdown, but with the experience gained from the first one last year, it was possible to set in motion the accompanying arrangements for essential shopping, etc., more promptly. One week ago he came out again to inform about a partial lifting of the lockdown as of 31 March.
As is the case in other countries, post this over one year of Covid assault all of them are having to take decisions that take into consideration their own contexts, their ground realities as regards the Covid situation as much as the socio-economic imperatives. What has become clear in the course of fighting to curb the pandemic and its impacts is that there is an ongoing balancing act that has to be done, one that is based on realism and pragmatism. This is because it is obvious too that there is a limit to the duration over which any country can support the shut-down or slowing of its economy. Big and rich countries can sustain or buffer such a strain because of their resources, indigenous or sourced from outside, despite supply chain issues and costs that predominantly will affect smaller economies, like ours.
While the long-standing suffering of the people because of the restrictions imposed must be alleviated as promptly as possible, it is also a fact that the opening of the economy for which the clamour is growing must also take into consideration the health security of the country. This is all the more crucial given that we are a small country with diverse cultural practices and norms which can be a factor in the rapid spread of the virus. This has clearly been evident in the clusters that have developed and that originated from Forest Side, leading to the need for creating the red zones and introducing a lockdown. Now the virus is present in several localities across the land. The situation is no longer the same, but can it be said to be worse, or is that a pattern that has also been seen elsewhere, and perhaps lessons can be learnt therefrom?
Details are important in this context. Besides the known clusters, the question that has been posed and that demands clear answers is about the sanitary and other conditions in the quarantine centres. Because if they are not adequate, that itself could lead to spread of the disease amongst those who initially were asymptomatic – as is happening in fact. Besides, there is both a human and a humanitarian aspect when it comes to families being forced to stay in one room, or a single parent with a child or children. Of equal importance is the plight of health personnel who are in quarantine, because if they don’t recover promptly or emerge debilitated, this is going to pose a major problem in the quality of care in the health services.
Our vaccination status also needs to be factored in, what with the constraints in supply that we are facing despite the generous offers from India already received and being rolled out.
Form what is happening elsewhere, the key word in opening seems to be ‘phased’. In the UK, for example, this is going to take place – but we have to reckon with the fact that it has vaccinated almost half of it population quite rapidly, and is in a better position to proceed to the gradual opening in a transparent manner the four phases have been spelt out clearly. The people have an upfront advance idea of what is awaiting them so that they are mentally prepared, and can start making the material adjustments required in anticipation of and in light of the measures of each phase.
This is perhaps the kind of forewarning that would reassure the people and all stakeholders, and facilitate the transitions towards the eventual and total lifting of the lockdown.
* Published in print edition on 30 March 2021