I feel as if I was stuck in an alternate universe just when I thought India fled from the fearful flood, the sequel that makes the first hit look like just a teaser landed on our shores well and truly. Naturally, I was mistaken, as our political class and most of our people did. How I wish speculation was real. How does this exponential plunge into death and desperation explain? Although it’s possible that laziness in wearing masks and physical distance played a major role, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the second wave was fueled by a much more virulent virus. If this is the case, we would all hope that the mutant child’s lethality is less than that of its parent and that the vaccinations now being carried out have comparable amounts of safety.
Whatever the final analysis of the epidemic’s second wave reveals, we are now seeing unspeakable horrors around the world. It’s heartbreaking to see India’s incredible achievements in gaining hold of the first wave squandered, leaving me with the uneasy feeling that we haven’t achieved much. How else can we justify the irrationality of holding polls and major religious meetings in the middle of a deadly outbreak? When the tsunami rolls over the shore, there’s nothing we can do except sticking to the behaviours we’ve long learned but mostly neglected to stem the tide.
You already know the drill, but it’s worth repeating: wear a properly fitting mask, stay away from busy areas, and get vaccinated. If we must shut down parts of our world, we must do so with care to escape the horrors that followed the first lockout. And we should start by abolishing the word “lockdown,” which is as frightening as the similarly terrifying term “social distancing,” and just ask our fellow citizens to remain at home. This ruse of words, though, does not change the fact that this program would have a negative impact on many people in our country. The hundreds of millions of people who depend on regular incomes to put food on the table are at the top of the list. The return of the disease may well be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back for all of these people, who have just recently started to see a light at the end of the dark tunnel when their livelihoods improved with the collapse of the first wave.
We must note that since the financial crash of 2008, deaths of depression resulted in an alarming decline in working-age Americans’ life expectancy; the crisis confronting India seems to be infinitely more daunting. Our children are next on the list, having not been to school in over a year and longing to return to the familiarity of a place where they could play, make friends, study, and eat a healthy meal. The effect of school and college closing on this generation’s academic capacity and mental health is incalculable, and the consequences will only become apparent in the coming years. Third, we must address the needs of mothers and people who are afflicted with other diseases in order to avoid contributing to the rising Covid-related death rate caused by a lack of vital health care access.
We know what we need to do to address each of these groups’ needs. This is the time for a transformative stimulus bill, on par with the progressive bills enacted by the Biden administration and other nations, to include direct cash payments to meet basic needs for at least the next three months for ordinary wage earners and small enterprises. For the sake of our young girls and boys, we must make it a priority for teachers and parents of school-aged children to get vaccinated so that schools can comfortably reopen, with physical distancing practised by having phased lessons outside or in well-ventilated classrooms, which is simple to do in our climate. The opening of hotels and casinos before schools reminds us of just how unthoughtful we were towards our youngsters. Schools must still be the last and the first to be opened.
We have to ensure that the health emergency facilities are available to those affected by other conditions and that telemedicine opportunities are used for continuous routine treatment. In my opinion, the second wave provides private sectors with a historic opportunity to play an active role in a national mission, just as they did in the manufacture of vaccines in a way that coordinates all the health needs of the communities they represent with the public sector. This may perhaps be the first practical step in achieving a relationship that is equally advantageous for all sectors to achieve full public health coverage.
For India, this is a time of reality. Recriminations and political thought ought to be put aside. The time will come for transparency. For now, let’s be honest that even if all of us are anxious to wear a mask and the government is increasing vaccination enormously, the outbreak will continue and nothing other than a harsh lockout will make a difference in this probability. We must maintain hope that, due to the lightning scattered throughout the country, this tsunami will pass in a matter of months, and that our frontline nurses will find every drop of superhero blood to support the sick. The most urgent need of the hour is to ensure the economic stability and well-being of the poor, whom we disappointed miserably the last time around. In this case, we can no longer blame our stupidity.
The government must act effectively, decisively, and generously. This entails more than just money; it also entails sincere compassion. I believe I speak for every Indian when I say that we must pray for our politicians across the political spectrum to put away their differences and stand in unity with the powerless and helpless so that they are not fatally wounded when the dust settles.