Cramped, congested and severely lacking in modern medical infrastructure, India could have been the next big disaster spot faced with an insurmountable Covid-19 outbreak. Except, that hasn’t happened so far. Whichever end of the of the political spectrum you might be on, it is undeniably obvious that the Modi government was rapid and decisive in its response from the very beginning.
Travel advisories from hotspots and emerging hotspots started being pushed out from January itself, and screening was urgently introduced across major international airports to at least have a preliminary examination of travelers coming in from affected countries. Indian students/pilgrims/tourists stuck in Wuhan, Iran, the Diamond Princess (off the coast of Japan) were promptly picked up on special flights and brought back to India where they underwent mandatory quarantine and testing.
Thus it was, that even on the day when the prime minister announced the beginning of a 21-day lockdown, Covid-19 had only just crossed the 500-case mark. What is truly remarkable here is that ruling BJP had not taken the exponential Covid-19 curves in other countries lightly, and was acting well in advance to prevent a similar catastrophe in India.
Unfortunately, while the response itself was swift, a big compromise seemed to have been made on planning and coordination. While local administrations did their best to placate people’s concerns about essential commodities being available, the reality has been innumerable instances from across the country of policemen harassing delivery boys and often even common people just out to buy groceries or medical supplies.
The claims about deliveries being made door to door by government agencies were absurd to begin with, but what was entirely unexpected was that even existing private delivery services which already knew what they were doing had to go through hell courtesy an incompetent bureaucracy and overactive police.
The worst consequences of the government’s terrible planning had to be borne by an already vulnerable group- migrant wage labourers. Spectacularly enough, neither the prime minister, nor his many advisors, nor the vast expanse of senior babudom had cared to think ahead about how these tens of millions of poor workers would get back to their villages and towns in the midst of a nationwide lockdown.
What followed were dystopian scenes of entire families walking hundreds of kilometres across national highways in a bid to somehow reach their homes. Not only was the government pathetically slow and leisurely in responding to their plight, it also did not/could not stop cops from accosting these poor souls along the way.
If the countless pleas for help and food on Twitter and other social media platforms are anything to go by, there is already a humanitarian disaster in the making thanks an incapable and inconsiderate state machinery. At this stage, one can only hope that necessary lessons have been learnt before Part Deux of the lockdown goes into force.