Final few days remain in the 21 days lockdown in India. The three weeks saw a surge in the number of cases, and the discourse constantly shifting from inadequate testing and PPEs to the migration of workers and the Tablighi Jamaat.
Over the next few days India will decide its subsequent course of action, in its fight against the spread of Covid19. In India the first case of coronavirus was reported on January 30, 2020. While the number of cases have been rising, the lockdown may certainly have helped in reducing the chances of infections.
At present, the number of coronavirus cases stand at 7,447, with 239 deaths. In the past few weeks a huge surge in the number of cases was witnessed due to the Tablighi Jamaat. While it accounts for a large share of the positive cases in many of the Indian states, is it only the fault of the organization or does the accountability rests with other government machineries as well?
The government maintains that it began the process of screening passengers coming from the many countries, that were seeing an increasing number of coronavirus positive cases, since the end of January, as a precautionary measure. However, questions are being raised on this government assumption of airport screening, due to a spike in the number of outbreak among the members of Tablighi Jamaat, after their meeting in New Delhi on March 13-15. The Tablighi Jamaat organised a meeting at their India headquarters, Markaz situated in Nizamuddin in New Delhi, and it accounts for the biggest coronavirus spike in India.
As per government data, as many as 2,100 foreigners visited India since March for Tablighi activities. Several Jamaat members entered India between February 27 and March 1, after attending a massive congregation at Sri Petaling in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which later emerged as the source of several hundred coronavirus infections in Southeast Asia. This certainly puts a big question on the airport screening assumption of the government.
The World Health Organization declared the Coronavirus a pandemic on March 11, while two days the government of India still maintained that it was not a health emergency. In fact, there had been no government response to covid19 till March 19, when the Prime Minister for the first time addressed the nation on the issue.
The delayed response of the Indian government can be attributed to the many engagements, that it found itself busy with. February saw the preparations and finally the mega event, marking the visit of the US President, Donald Trump to India. The two day Namaste-Trump event, saw a congregation of about a million people. The fact that such a high-profile event took place, with so many people being assembled in one spot, is a cause of wonder, as by the time this event took place, cases and deaths from covid19, had started taking a huge toll in Iran and Italy. It is also another matter, that one-leg of the event in Delhi, coincided with the brutal communal riots in the national capital.
It is true that a large spike in the number of the cases was due to the congregation at the Markaz at Nizamuddin. Since then stories of prejudice against the members of the Jamaat and also the larger Muslim community have been rampant. This has emerged as a major cause of concern. It has led many people refusing to come forward for testing, scared of the prejudice that they may encounter. Also in an atmosphere which was already rife with communal tensions, this incident and the subsequent demonising of the larger Muslim community, further widens the gap in a rather critical juncture of time, when the country is fighting a pandemic.
But while the organization may have been at fault in organizing the large congregation, the blame does not only rests there. The governments, both the state and the centre, along with the police, should also be held equally accountable. Why was such a large assembly of people allowed , and how did so many foreign nationals from many virus affected nations, enter India, when the government maintains it had been screening passengers at the Indian airports. And the Delhi police, which has swung into action, at the slightest over the past few months, remained a mute spectator, when a congregation was taking place, right next to its police station. After all, the Markaz is a stone throw away from the police station at Nizamuddin.
Many recent reports have suggested that many hot-spots in India may have entered the critical stage three or community transmission stage of the virus. With the given high population as well as the density of population in the country, adequate tests are not being done. This makes the experts argue, that even though the number of cases may be less now, the number of infected people may be much higher, and it will only surge and have a near-explosion if the situation is not rectified, through more number of tests. In fact, India lags behind in the number of tests done per million. The inadequate number of personal protection equipment or the PPEs are another major cause of concern.
Reports are rife that the lockdown will continue for some more weeks. These are mere speculation right now, and the extent of the lockdown, in its present form, or with relaxations, is not known yet. But the pertinent question, is whether the lockdown serve its entire purpose without proper and adequate testing. Many experts believe that the migration of workers which took place in the first few days of the lockdown , may have led to the expansion of the outbreak to many rural areas, as many of the migrants may have been infected, and on their way may have infected many more. What happens when the lockdown is lifted and as they migrate back to the cities, this is a pertinent question that needs to be looked at.
Then there is the fight between the rational and irrational. In another address to the nation, on April 3, PM urged all citizens to switch off the lights, and light candles and diyas, instead to show unity and solidarity in the face of the surging pandemic. While the intent of the call had noble intentions and maybe also necessary in times of confusion, and melancholy, it again bordered at a spectacle, as people, on the back of irrational and wrong social media reports, especially faulty WhatsApp forwards, again made a spectacle of it. While standing in solidarity is necessary, the fight against the virus has only to be waged though proper medical, scientific and rational sources, and not irrational, popular discourses. Irrationality cannot be an alternative to the scientific ways of fighting with this.
As we come down to the final few days of the lock down, with the stipulated lockdown coming to an end on April 14, it would be interesting to see the way the government charts its next steps to protect the 1.3 billion people from the surging virus.