It is not community transmission yet, but overnight the number of people testing positive for coronavirus has shot up. If Mumbai’s WorlinKoliwada has emerged as the hotspot, and has been sealed off, in Delhi the Nizamuddin Aulia Basti is the focus point for a nation-wide hunt to trace down suspected victims of the deadly virus.
They had participated in an unauthorized international conference held by an Islamic sect. The Markaz Nizamuddin building has now been sealed. Seven people connected with that conference have died. Over four hundred have been quarantined.
Authorities in several states from where the attendees of the conference came, and number of them had then selected to stay back in crowded surroundings, sometimes crammed fifty into a small room, are now tracking them in several states, including Telangana, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, etc. Though the Tablighi Jamaat pleads ignorance and innocence, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has called their actions highly irresponsible. Police have registered a case against the administrators of the Markaz mosque.
The real toll from this single breach of common sense is yet to be assessed. But it will be huge. Meanwhile, despite the morbid obsession of a section of the domestic and foreign media with migrants, the real challenge the government needs to start grappling with is its impact on the livelihoods of tens of millions. Though the government has wisely quelled speculation that the lockdown might last well beyond the 21-period till April 14, there can be no definitive timeline at this stage.
Only the behaviour of the pandemic will determine, and should determine, the actual time-line of the lockdown. However, the government clarification addressed a collective anxiety, reassuring people that the disruption wouldn’t be prolonged. Economic disruption, of course, is a huge concern and one shudders to think of the millions who have suddenly lost their meager daily incomes. Maybe the government will positively consider a suggestion to allow sector-wise revival of the economic activity.
Industrial sector ought to get priority provided responsibility for proper healthchecks can be fixed to prevent the spread of the virus. Poor don’t have anything to fall back on other than their daily slog. They must be allowed to return to work if pandemic spread eases. Admittedly, the capacity of government, state and central, to provide succour is woefully limited. Indeed, small businesses too cannot cope with an extended lockdown.
As a migrant trekking home with his wife and young children said, if not coronavirus, hunger will kill them if they don’t have work. Meanwhile, the pandemic is bound to leave the world vitally transformed in some ways. In India, it may induce a re-think among politicians to strengthen the welfare net, to allocate more for healthcare, to ensure proper hygiene in public places.
Globally, it may force the western nations to reduce their dependence on China for goods and services. The supply chain disruption in key sectors due to the Wuhan virus may have already forced iconic global brands to consider sourcing materials from other countries. India can snag some of the gains should the authorities come off their high horse and ease the way for the global giants to set up shop here. Sadly, remnants of a broken socialist structure still haunt India’s economic policy-makers.
Why should Vietnam, South Korea, even Bangladesh corner the gains from the concerted move away from China by global brands in technology, clothing, automobiles, etc? India too relies for vital ingredients, say, for its sizable pharma sector, on China. This may have to be relocated. Trade and industry too thrive on the Chinese imports. There ought to be a rethink here as well. In sum, corona pandemic when it is finally defeated would leave the free world vastly changed in its social, economic and political orientation.
Though we cannot of course suggest even remotely that corona is acceptable — no, it is a dreadful devil — yet we will like people like Trump and other climate-change deniers to breathe the air in the most populated of global cities. From New York to Paris, from London to New Delhi, the PMQ levels are down to ‘healthy’ and oftentimes even ‘excellent’. Humankind has the time during the lockdown to ponder if the scales are to remain tilted so badly towards ‘development’ as to orphan environment, nay nature. Striking a balance may also help prevent the recurrence of pandemics like SARS, MERS, and now, COVID-19.