The last few days have been a return of possible Covid infections with the new JN.1 sub-variant of Omicron making its presence felt across the country. Already, Karnataka and Kerala have reported Covid deaths, though the link to the new sub-variant is yet to be established. The rise in infections has been large enough to be take note of by the state administrations in more than half a dozen states of India which have made wearing of masks mandatory in public places once again. There is apprehension among people about the new sub-variant is, though the union health ministry has said the variant is currently “under intense scientific scrutiny but not a cause of immediate concern” as all JN.1 cases were found to be mild.
This may well be a premature pronouncement. If there’s anything we know about the coronavirus, as with most viruses, is that it mutates and takes forms that cannot always be anticipated, expressing itself in variants and sub-variants. What is called for here are not words of soft denial or dismissiveness but a comprehensive preparedness plan that moves from the preventive stage — which is now — to tackling the spread if it spreads wildly as the days go by. Governments, both at the centre and in states, as well as local municipal corporations or councils, would be well advised to formulate such a plan or follow one if they already have it drawn up. Knowing the steps to be taken at various levels and preparing for an escalation in such steps is half the battle won.
In the four years since Covid-19 first broke upon the world, governments have been called upon to stay prepared and work to a plan. The central government has issued guidelines; we must hope that state and local governments will follow the protocol in the days ahead to avoid chaos, fear and shortage of hospital beds. However, this alone is not enough. People must be on alert, too, and take preventive steps. Given the lackadaisical attitude of many people, especially towards wearing masks, this is doubtful. The prevailing public sentiment is that Indians can take Covid in their stride — a dangerous mindset when facing an epidemic that lingers around. Caution is the keyword for governments and people.