The National Lockdown has been extended till May 17th, 2020.It was almost predictable and inevitable, as contemporaneous reports surfaced that though the curve was ‘seemingly flattening’ and recovery rates of the afflicted were high, there were newer and newer clusters, being discovered among the asymptomatic, with the viral spread. The scientists, economists, political leaders, academicians, health experts and financial manufacturing and service sector institutions et al, are all in it together. They are pouring over data from the experience of last three or four months from world over. Even as the effort to hit upon a vaccine is underway, by more than 80 entities, all across the world, at last count, Oxford University allied with the Serum Institute in Pune, appears to have a head start. End September is their optimistic forecast.
Be that as it may, the masses are struggling. India is a rich country with poor people. Already, the finances of the Central and State governments are stretched. Economic packages are not to provide ‘stimulus’ to the economy. They are meant to be ‘rescue and recovery’ ones. Not one, just no country, has ever seen anything like this before. It all seems so surreal at one level. It is triggering anger, frustration, anguish, anxiety, fear and more among the entire 8 million world population.
There are no ready answers. No standard operating procedures for the health or the economic crisis. The Pandemic is a health induced economic crisis. Unless the health crisis is over, the economic crisis is here to stay and last. Pandemic is setting the deadline. The world economy is on shutdown and every other government is on bail out mode. Trillions of dollars are being pumped in and the treasury mints are working overtime. Yet, listen to the ‘experts’, they are unable to answer the basic questions, the proverbial common man has.
Is there a cure for the virus? Is there a consistent pattern of it impacting the elderly and sparing the younger? Could there be a relapse of the virus for the cured and recovered? How long would it last? Could there be a second bout round the bend, as climates change? When should the Lockdown ease and in what order? Whether the shutdown as a cure, lasting longer, and therefore worse than the disease itself? Whether the social distancing norms and new protocols in public, suffice for the reopening of the economy? Is herd immunity the answer? And many, many more.
Read, hear, listen, watch and surf, the print, electronic and internet of everything, you still have no answers .You have more of the same: questions. We are where we were when Wuhan, Hubei province in China was struck first, with the viral spread from a wet market (And the conspiracy stories are multiplying faster than the virus itself). China has gotten over it? Wuhan is back on its ‘limping legs and not even walking normal leave alone getting back to running’, says a resident.
Cut to the United States, Donald J Trump has completely cast aside and forsaken the role of the leader of the free world. Barack Obama was in the thick of action, be it the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis or the Ebola and Sars outbreaks. There was close co operation and co ordination among the nations of the world. Today, when over 188 countries are affected by the impact of the virus, each one is on its own. That is a huge tragedy that has befallen the world citizen. America First and Brexit have ruined the getting together of nations, to act in unison and help out the poorer ones holding their hands. All that is long gone and Trump has singlehandedly ensured that the crisis take a larger life. When he ought to have taken the mantle of the leader to proclaim, “There is nothing to fear except fear’ as Franklin D Roosewelt thundered, he has retired to the White House to talk about his ‘fading and failing poll numbers with the November 2020 presidential elections looming large”.
If the richest country in the world, technologically most advanced and possibly possessing the most sophisticated health care systems, is struggling with over 60,000 deaths and counting, there is something rottenly wrong with the way, politics is run at the highest echelons. Comparatively, with a 1.3 billion strong populace and a density that defies social distancing and the health care ‘not the best we can boast of’, with deaths just touching a thousand, we are much better off. But even one death is one too many. Italy, Spain, Germany and United Kingdom, all western democracies, are in tumult and turbulence. Every single leader is groping for solutions and the lack of co ordination among the G8, G20 or G infinity, is exacerbating the problems.
‘Everyone’ (whoever it is) is convinced that ‘how the world would be a different place after this Pandemic’. There are stories being penned on which areas are likely to change and the change may be transformational and telling. Critical analysis is being made with statistical models as when the curve would peak and whether it would plateau, before descending, but all that is going for a toss, as Nature makes a mockery of these algorithms.
Typically, the opposition in India, which offered its ‘unstinting and fullest co operation to the ruling dispensation’, has seemingly withdrawn it, on the sly. The media which has never accepted Modi as the leader is playing up that ‘Lockdown is lasting too long. Migrants are getting killed. Modi 2.0 has no exit plan in place as they have a warped sense of administration’. Not to forget the Webinars and Zoom Conferences, debate on the doomsday scenario. That is adding to the anxiety levels and fear factor, even as there is an effort to introduce a ‘staggering opening up of the economy’.
And Judiciary is on virtual lockdown as the virtual terrain is a poor cousin of the real and physical. Truth of the matter is that no one, just no one knows ‘Where we are, Where we are headed, and when and where it may all be over ’. It does appear that like the Bubonic Plague, Black Death and Spanish flu of old, the deathly dance of the Novelcoronavirus, would also dissipate in time, but not go for good. The timeline, we know not.
Truth appears to be tucked not in any out of the box or without a box thinking. No one can think through, for the solutions in sight are not really tried and tested, as we are facing unprecedented climes. Only one thing seems so clear and evident. That the Covid-19 is not going anywhere, until there is a vaccine in place. We realised the importance of Jenner’s vaccine discovery, decades after his demise. The only hope and expectation is that the ‘race for vaccine’ is real and chivalrous, and not commercially exploitative. Dr. Hill of Oxford University Jenner Lab confirmed that they declined a request from an American Pharma company to appropriate the vaccine for exclusive manufacture.
It is therefore abundantly clear that the discovery of a Vaccine, upon compliance with its stipulated protocol, may alone enable restoration of ‘normalcy’. Until then, we have to live with fear, anxiety and stagger along, even with a staggered opening of the economy. No point or purpose will be served, in cacophonously clamouring that the rulers were doing this and that or not doing this and that, as neither they nor We The People know what needs to be done, until we have the VACCINE.
(Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan- Author is practising advocate in the Madras High Court)