Open air cremation in Surat, Gujarat
Open air cremation in Surat, Gujarat

The pandemic is becoming a nightmare for more reasons than one. Aside from the slowdown in the vaccination drive, now comes the horrendous news that several graveyards and cremation grounds, of Muslims and Hindus alike, have little space left for giving the victims of the coronavirus a proper funeral. In certain crematoriums bodies are piled up for eight to ten hours before the actual funeral.

Given how even close family and friends are barred from performing the usual rituals before consigning the body to fire, the anxious wait further worsens the harrowing experience. It seems in several places in Gujarat, Chhattisgarh even in Delhi morgues are full with no more space left to store bodies in a temperature-controlled environment. Never before have we seen such an appalling pressure on crematoria.

Of course, if it is any consolation some time ago the western media was replete with reports how the burial grounds in Brazil had filled up with the virus fatalities so much so there was paucity of gravediggers for the additional land hurriedly requisitioned to expand the last home of the dead. Similar shortages of gravediggers were reported from a couple of Scandinavian countries. The point is that before you point an accusatory finger at the local, state and Central authorities, all of whom are somehow interlinked in grappling with this once-in-a-lifetime health crisis, do pause to consider that there is still some superior force unseen by humans which reminds us to be humble, to behave responsibly, not to be proud.

This of course is not an argument for being irrational and to be even fatalistic in one’s attitude to life but a plea for humility in the face of a seemingly insurmountable challenge. Who would have imagined, for example, that soon after assuming that we were rid of the peak of the corona crisis, and increasingly going back to the old normal, we would be hit by a far more deadly virus, more virulent, more lethal than the earlier ones and which is said to defy the newly-developed vaccines.

Medical science is valiantly playing catch-up with the new strains of the virus but so far it is unable to master them all. There is the South African strain, and there is the UK strain. Besides, reports that Johnson & Johnson and Astra-Zeneca vaccines are causing blood clots add another disturbing dimension to the global crisis. Some countries have suspended the use of the Astra-Zeneca vaccines, others of Johnson & Johnson.

Fortunately, the Russian Sputnik which is to be manufactured on licence by the Hyderabad-based Dr Reddy’s Lab will be available for use only in June-July. Meanwhile, several states have imposed fresh restrictions to deal with the crisis. Dusk-to-dawn curfew was imposed in Delhi a couple of days ago and is to continue till the end of the month. Delhi has also designated private hospitals as Covid-only facilities with all elective surgeries suspended even by government hospitals.

Mumbai, which is in a bigger crisis than even Delhi, has reluctantly imposed curfew-like restrictions from 8pm to 7am with a few exceptions for essential services. Public transport, including local trains and buses, grocery and vegetable shops, food outlets and public utilities will remain open. Manufacturing units can work at 50 per cent capacity and will have to make arrangements to house the workers on the premises itself. Nobody even during the day will be allowed in a public place without a valid reason.

In other words, a semi-lockdown in Maharashtra till the fury of the virus is tamed. Scientists have reason to believe that half-measures do not serve the objective of containing the virus, but to the extent the new restrictions help, these ought to be welcome. The only lesson every Indian has to learn is that without taking care of himself no health authority can help him.

Even the devout who took the dip in Haridwar as part of the auspicious Shahi Snan are not exempt from contracting the virus. And do note that Yogi Adityanath, the saffron-clad Chief Minister of UP, has himself tested positive and has self-quarantined himself. It is a huge relief too that the Haridwar Kumbh Mela is to be closed ahead of schedule after reports that a number of devotees were stricken by the virus. Clearly, the virus is immune to religious faith as well.

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