The Government of India has announced the second phase of the lockdown throughout the country till 3 May 2020. Stricter enforcement of restrictions is expected. Will life be the same before and after the pandemic and lockdown? COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to many social side-effects in the fight against it, touching human life not only physically, but in numerous other ways.
The Ministry of Home Affairs has sought a report from the West Bengal government regarding dilution of lockdown measures by increasing the number of exceptions that could have resulted in the spread of COVID-19 infection in the State. It has pointed out that violation of their orders issued under the Disaster Management Act of 2005 is liable for penal action – a political-administrative issue arising as a side-effect of epidemic control.
West Bengal Chief Minister has reiterated that the lockdown in the State would continue with a “human face”. Irreproachable. But, pandemics like COVID-19 will not respond to soft human approach or friendly gestures of even a popular leader, and needs to be put down with an iron hand. The loss and inconveniences of lockdown can be rectified, but the loss due to the spread of the epidemic cannot.
A gruesome attack on a police party doing their duty of checking curfew passes in which the hand of a sub-inspector was cut with a sword by a group of people in a vegetable market in Patiala reveals the occupational hazard involved in the job of epidemic control. This is in addition to the risk of catching the disease faced by all workers in the field.
Lockdown, globally recommended as unavoidable course to contain the epidemic, is the centre around which individual and social life is organised today. It is accepted as a weapon, but its terms are bitter, creating conflicts.
Violations of lockdown rules are happening in all States numbering in thousands and fetching fine amounts in lakhs besides seizure of hundreds of vehicles which are cited as proof of concerned State Government’s efficient enforcement of the lockdown. Rather, they are evidence of the inherent incapacity of our people to submit to disciplinary rules which is habitually ignored under normal conditions. It has increased the responsibility of governments and law enforcing agencies to be vigilant in checking violations – an unnecessary additional burden while engaged in a life-saving mission.
As the health impact of the disease is felt wherever it has attacked, its multiple side-effects in non-medical and non-health matters are enormous, even beyond the threat of nuclear war. It brings to the fore social responsibility of people in all walks of life to contain, fight, and eradicate the disease. There is no news these days in the media or informally among people apart from matters relating to the pandemic. Nothing has so far united people of the entire world as the concern over the growth of the pandemic and efforts to find a remedy.
Globalisation is undergoing a trend towards strong team work against the disease. Simultaneously, a stimulus to promote national self-sufficiency is also growing. The UNO, FAO, and WTO have warned the nations of the risk of worldwide food shortage if the epidemic is not managed in time. In India, State governments are already taking steps to carry on agricultural activities without disruption.
Over a month ago, when China, Iran, and USA were already facing the wrath of the epidemic, and COVID-19 was knocking at our doors, WHO chief warned the world: “We are in unchartered territory. We have never seen a respiratory pathogen that is capable of community transmission, but which can also be contained with the right measure”. The community becomes the focus for action.
All epidemic diseases have a strong social side as serious as health aspects and it effecting social changes. For, they are primarily related with social interaction. Hence, every man and woman, as a human being, has got a duty to contribute actively or passively to fight the epidemic and has no right to protest against or disobey orders and regulations. Religion and conventions cannot be excuses for violations of epidemic control orders. Any action, that is deliberately done that could aggravate the situation, is a crime against the nation and against humanity.
In a country where there are people who think that spitting in a public place is their right, COVID-19 has given an opportunity to learn basic hygiene. In a village in Tamil Nadu, sometime ago long before this epidemic, a school teacher was reprimanded for advising a student to wash his hands before taking lunch as making a casteist remark! Today, we are constantly advised how to wash our hands.
Making lockdown a success is a joint responsibility of law enforcing agencies and the community. We have to pool human resources and the services of leaders from various fields – political, administrative, educational, religious, media, entertainment, sports, etc. Industrialists have to restore manufacturing of goods that are now affected. The corporate world has an additional social responsibility in the task of maintaining financial stability and in recovery and extending support to welfare activities.
COVID-19 has conclusively proved that governance is not the exclusive domain of political leaders, but needs the active participation of people. The Prime Minister holds extensive discussions with various leaders including religious leaders to find ways of facing the crisis.
Acknowledgement of the importance of experts in various fields to provide guidance at every point is an important outcome of this health emergency. Apart from doctors, paramedics, health and sanitary workers, the role of economists, social scientists, social workers, and media personnel has become vital in handling the crisis. Politicians and generalist civil servants heading the bureaucracy presently need the advice and active involvement of experts as equal partners in governance. It signifies the value of facts, truth, reason, and impartial judgement to guide action.
The epidemic has psychological impact which is already emerging as a problem. Studies are launched to assess community perception on the impact of this pandemic. The ban on liquor in many States is affecting addicts mentally. But, the Kerala Government’s proposal to relax prohibition for some time has been disallowed by the court.
Total lockdown is said to be world’s biggest psychological experiment likely to cause stress-related problems. Quarantine is not just physical discomfort, but a mental agony that would last for lifetime.
Mental state of daily wage labourers facing loss of wages, employees facing possible retrenchment, small traders and vendors unable to carry on their business and of families separated by lockdown restrictions on movements, create fear and sense of uncertainty difficult to overcome. The only remedy is to impose more rigorous restrictions and stricter enforcement for faster elimination of the epidemic.
Unforeseen rise in incidents of domestic violence has been reported in many countries including India as a fall-out of lockdown forcing people to stay at home. Divorce cases are reported to be increasing.
Such side-effects of the World War against COVID-19 pandemic are many more, and must be conquered with united and determined action.