Come, let us give up this false fear and, having faith in the infinite compassion of God, gird our loins and enter the field of action. Let us live pure and clean lives. Disease, fear of an epidemic, etc., will vanish into thin air by His grace”.
– Swami Vivekananda, The Plague Manifesto, (Sources: Complete-Works / Volume 9 / Writings: Prose and Poems. Prabudha Bharata Vol 111; May 1, 2006)
“In the past two weeks, the number of cases of COVID-19 outside China has increased 13-fold, and the number of affected countries has tripled..... We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterised as a pandemic”, declared World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. If the epidemiologists and scientists researching on various models related to the spread of the virus to be believed then with this speed 60 to 70 per cent adults of the world can get infected by the Novel Coronavirus. Naturally, the world is in panic mode and with the Government of Bharat cancelling all granted visas for foreigners, except diplomats, the ‘lockdown’ narrative played by media is adding fuel to the scare. What should be our response in this situation?
We do not know the origin of this virus, and therefore, scientists took some time to decode the standard protocol of the infectious disease. The first alarm bell for the suspicious new virus was rung in early December itself, but the ‘state secrecy’ practised by China suppressed those voices. After detection of unusual pneumonia cases by Dr Dang, Huanan seafood market was closed on January 1. By the time the WHO came into the picture and declared the health emergency on January 30, we lost the critical time.
Meanwhile, the allegations of Chinese bio-weapon programme going wrong and WHO not getting access to the affected areas of the region were also made. By the time China started using its high-handed approach to quarantine the cities, it was too late. The virus got spread all over the world and finally, it was declared as pandemic on March 11.
As on March 12, there are more than 1,18,000 cases of infection in 114 countries, 4,291 people have lost their lives, and thousands more are fighting for their lives. Many experts believe that the actual numbers are much more than the officially declared ones. Whatever the media management China is doing today, the aspirant superpower cannot shrug off the responsibility of putting the entire world in this precarious situation.
The situation looks even scarier in the age of information explosion. The hoarding and marketing practices in the pharmaceutical sector make things even worse. While taking requisite precaution, we should not forget that this outbreak is not as fatal as Flu of 1968 or Asian flu of 1956 in which millions died. Right now, 90 per cent of the infected cases are limited to four countries, including China. The fatality rate is 3.4 per cent though it can be more if we consider the limited infected zones like Wuhan. The virus had been spreading undetected for weeks, without showing early symptoms people have commuted carrying the virus with them and lack of healthcare facilities to address the nature of disease are the real cause of concern as experienced in Italy. Considering population density of Bharat and healthcare infrastructure, especially in the rural areas, we have to be extra cautious, as keeping the infection rate as low as possible is the best way to address the problem.
Fortunately, in Bharat, the Union Government came into action right on December 31, the day China officially conceded about the health emergency. There has been continuous monitoring of the situation, and screening and testing mechanism is in place. So far, there are 73 infected cases, including 17 foreigners, without any casuality. The Government has evacuated 900 Bharateeya citizens along with 48 belonging to other nationalities, which is a great diplomatic success and perfect human security approach for a sovereign country like us. We are a matured society with the inherent preventive mechanisms in our tradition. The initiatives like Swachha Bharat Abhiyan also are coming handy in averting the further spread. Some people are still in the colonial hangover and take pride in mocking Bharat; some immature politicians are also trying to earn brownie points in this grave situation. We have to spread the awareness, adopt best-practices related to civic hygienic life and show the entire world our power of resilience without pressing the panic button. The words of sages like Swami Vivekananda preached at the time of plague in Kolkata – known as the Plague Manifesto – can come handy in this endeavour.