Indians stranded in Wuhan being evacuated by an Air India aircraft
Even as the world scrambles to put all defences to fight the Covid-19, or the Coronavirus pandemic, India’s response is worthy of appreciation and even gratitude
On the tarmac of the Wuhan International Airport, the look of awe on the Chinese marshallers was quite visible, as an Air India aircraft touched down to airlift stranded Indians from Wuhan in Hubei province, the epicentre of Coronavirus outbreak. They must have been thinking which country will even do this? India, undoubtedly! Even as the world scrambles to put up all defences to fight the Covid-19 or the Coronavirus pandemic, India’s response is one worthy of appreciation and even gratitude. Let’s cover gratitude first.
I am wondering if there is any other country that evacuated its citizens from Coronavirus flash points like India. India evacuated more than 700 citizens from the epicentre of Wuhan in the Hubei province. The Chinese government was enforcing strict lockdowns on the entire Hubei province. Amidst this, India’s diplomatic mission in Beijing had to painstakingly identify, trace, locate and then contact all Indians trapped in Hubei province. Then, our diplomats travelled on road to Wuhan and arranged for buses to be sent to different remote corners of the province to fetch the Indians.
Similarly, India is evacuating hundreds of Indians trapped in Iran and bringing them back home safely. This time, to further speed up the process of isolation and rehabilitation, India is testing the stranded Indians in Iran itself. And the entire testing systems will be donated to Iran as a goodwill gesture to augment that country’s response. Iran is one of the worst-affected countries. While I am writing this article, 200 plus Indians are being rescued from northern Italy, the epicentre of the outbreak in Italy.
The critics may dismiss it as a government duty and assert the need to show any gratitude, but we must understand that this is no mean feat. Otherwise, why didn’t most other countries rescue their citizens unlike we did? The kind of seamless coordination across diplomatic channels is unprecedented. Our government has to take permits from the host countries and their many layers of governance mechanism. This amidst a lockdown where the tendency of such machinery would be to heed less to concerns from other nations and first focus on the well being of the host nation’s citizens. However, this is not the first time. India has stood by its citizens in all kinds of crises and rescued them every time. Perhaps, only an Indian, in any corner of the world, can sleep peacefully that if he or she faces a problem tomorrow, the tri-colour and the Ashok Chakra will come to their rescue, no matter what!
On the domestic front too, our healthcare workers are working on a war footing. 1,229,363 passengers have been screened from 11,406 flights at the 30 designated airports. In response to a British economist’s criticism of India’s response, many netizens reacted by reminding him that India’s screening at airports is by far the best compared to most other Western airports such as JFK in New York or, Heathrow in London. India was among the first country to stop all tourist visas to put a stop to foreigners bringing in the virus. The arrivals of cruise ships have also been curbed.
A noted healthcare expert tweeted that, “…Before the outbreak, all measures will seem draconian; after the outbreak is over, any measure will look inadequate.” Hence, by invoking Epidemics Act and Disaster Management Act, the government has rightly acted towards isolating the virus. These invocations, not only provides additional funds for the state governments to fight the Covid-19, but also allows them to ban all social gatherings to stop the community transmission of the virus. Moreover, by placing masks and sanitizers under essential commodities, the government has ensured the requisite availability of these crucial frontline supplies. The network of labs equipped to test COVID-19 has also been expanded to 52.
Our Prime Minister himself is directly monitoring the efforts on containing Covid-19. An emergency control room in New Delhi is tracking all the Coronavirus cases and keeping a tab on new developments. On the Information, Education and Communication (IEC) front, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is doing a good job in busting fake news and ensuring citizens are adequately informed to fight Covid-19 on an individual level. The Ministry has even launched comics to adequately inform the children! By now, we all know the famous Coronavirus warning dialler tone.
We must thank the Prime Minister for his Swatch Bharat initiative, which definitely will be an important bulwark in fighting Coronavirus. He especially lays focus on how physicians had to send reports urgently about any disease outbreaks
Nevertheless, government needs to maintain caution for the next couple of months while ensuring citizens, individually, don’t bring the guard down too. This is because while the Covid-19 may disappear with the rising summer, the chances are that it may hit back with greater vengence post November as winter sets in. The population at airports needs care, coordination and communication, but we must remember that Indias still largely travel by trains and buses, especially private buses. The Health Ministry and the State Governments need to instruct private bus operators to sanitize their buses. Indians travelling by trains also need to be instructed to maintain hygiene and trains need to be equipped with sanitizers. Indian Railways could provide subsidized hand sanitizers to all the travellers as they provide water bottles.
There is no doubt the Government of India is making commendable progress in containing the outbreak. But we must not let the guard down until there is sufficient evidence of the absence of the virus completely from the country.
Two thousand years ago, Kautilya in his Arthashastra laid emphasis on how a king has to put focus on public health. He exhorts for cleanliness in society to contain spread of communicable diseases (We must thank the Prime Minister for his Swatch Bharat initiative, which definitely will be an important bulwark in fighting Coronavirus). He especially lays focus on how physicians had to send reports urgently about any disease outbreaks. For our modern day rulers, Kautilya urges to ensure that communication lines are absolutely transparent and running between the top and bottom of administrative hierarchy.
(The writer was the ex-program coordinator for Sansad Mobile Swasthya Seva in Himachal Pradesh)