Who would have known that a tiny virus invisible to the human eye would flatten the mightiest of nations, bringing virtually the entire world to a grinding halt. Metropolises which thrived with life 24x7, from New York to Paris, London to Frankfurt, Delhi to Mumbai and a host of others now devoid of everyday life. These are ghost towns now due to the overpowering universal fear of coronavirus that has gripped the world. A military is not yet assembled which is able to conquer over this virus, though scientists in the world’s best laboratories are now engaged furiously in isolating the gene of COVID-19 to come up with a vaccine or an oral pill to neutralise its deadly effect. Believe in the power of the Unknown? But the known knowns are now widely known, from the illiterate farmer to the most decorated of university dons. Wash your hands, keep a safe distance from others, avoid crowded places, cough into the sleeve of your shirt, not into the palm of your hand, etc. Do not greet one another with hand-shakes or Modi-style hugs. Instead say the old-fashioned ~Namastey~ from a safe six-foot distance. And should you suspect you have the symptoms such as dry cough, mild fever and headaches, go get yourself tested for the latest scourge of the 21st century. After SARS and MERS and H1N1 flu, COVID-19 is the latest to disrupt the world at large. Whether it is to be called the Chinese flu, as the US President Trump calls it, or Wuhan flu, as his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo termed it, and which China strongly protested, there is no denying it did originate in China. And as early as the last week of November and the first week of December last year. We in India are fortunate to have got the early warning. And the way the Government thus far has handled it has earned plaudits even from its known critics. But this is not enough. The second stage when the virus spreads like a wild fire is yet to pass. From what we know thus far the Indian Government has taken abundant precaution to quarantine anyone coming from known centers of infection such as Italy or China and has increased testing at the airports. Among other steps is the ban on travel to and from Europe and the US. Having said that, given the size of the population the challenge seems enormous. Unless the private sector is roped in to lend a helping hand with men and materials such as testing digital thermometers and other medical devices, and isolation camps are readied for those unfortunate to have contracted the infection or suspected to have the symptoms, there is a danger of our losing the war against the deadly virus. We can overcome it if voluntary effort supplements the government effort to try and contain the spread of the infection. It is also good that private medical labs are being equipped to undertake testing free of charge wherever possible or otherwise for a nominal fee.
Paradoxically, at a time when, led by the US, there is a growing anti-globalisation mood in the world, the outbreak of COVID-19 calls for closer cooperation between nations in order to deal with the common menace to the humanity. Disruption caused by it is universal and multi-pronged, leaving no facet of human activity unaffected. Most worrying aside from the threat to human life will be the economic impact. Global growth, already slowing before its spread, is bound to take a huge hit thanks to the lock-down mandated by COVID-19. India ought to be ready soon with its booster package. Led by the Chinese, most countries have decided to pump in additional billions in cash and incentives to various sectors of the economy and to tens of millions of individuals forced to sit out the crisis. Aside from reducing the prime lending rates, central banks in the western world have undertaken quantity easing. A mix of fiscal and monetary policy steps can be expected in India as well to counter the corona-induced disruption. Though we have done well to restrict the number of cases of those infected, with fatalities less than half-a-dozen thus far, we cannot be complacent. The worst is yet to pass. Every Indian is duty-bound to cooperate in overcoming the national health emergency.