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The Other Side of Covid-19

United States, United Kingdom and India are known as the world’s most important democracies with elected leaders in power. At present, the three democracies, their people and their leaders are caught in similar crises. Of course, Covid-19 is taking its toll in most parts of the world, but it is strange that people are suffering the most in countries, which are hailed as major “democracies.” Government heads, President Donald Trump, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Prime Minister Narendra Modi seem to be giving the same impression of their taking just the right measures to ride over not just this pandemic but also economic crises affecting their respective countries.

Not many people, at present, appear convinced by what these leaders are saying. In fact, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that this pandemic has suddenly given a new voice to millions asserting their stand against policies of their governments, if not verbally at least symbolically. The symbolic resistance in India has been marked by millions of laborers defying the lockdown and choosing to walk back to their native roots- the villages from where they came to cities to work and earn. Lockdown, begun in India on March 24th, was extended on May 17th till May 31st. It is the longest lockdown, affecting the world’s second largest population, of which a significant percentage are self-employed and include the poor living on daily wages.

Never before perhaps democratic institutions in the three countries faced similar threats and governments were blamed for incompetency in handling the threat as well as chaos posed by Covid-19. Considering that news about Coronavirus was very much in the air, with cases in US as well as India being reported in January, President Trump’s India-visit in February seemed a little out of place. The same may be said about about Trump-Modi hugging each other more than once during this brief visit. Of course, Modi is famous for his hug diplomacy. But with Covid-19 already in the air, social distancing demanded a restrain from both leaders against such hugs.

What is intriguing is that neither of the three nations appear to have paid adequate attention to implement restrictions, including social distancing, from beginning of this year. The billion dollar question is why? Of course, majority of population is facing the economic crunch in the three countries, but poor, lower and middle-classes are facing the brunt. Time to time, Trump, Modi and Johnson do address people and/or issue statements about their “fight” against Covid-19. Paradoxically, people of neither of the three countries seem convinced about whether any steps are being genuinely taken to help them or not. Rather, as various means of communication indicate, the three leaders are being strongly criticized in their countries for having failed till now in battling Covid-19.

The temporal linkage in claims being made in these countries about their “successfully” rushing towards developing vaccines to fight Coronavirus, at present, is a little difficult to digest. As difficult as President Trump’s apparent confidence about his being safe from Covid-19 because of his taking HCQS. It wouldn’t be surprising if Prime Minister Modi is also taking HCQS but he hasn’t revealed it as yet. India is a key producer of HCQS and has begun exporting this medicine to US. Some reports indicate that the medicine is being “successfully” tested on patients in US, the first consignment of which reached from India in first half of April.

Well, if top leaders feel safe because of HCQS, isn’t it their democratic and political obligation to distribute the medicine among as many people as possible, with instructions about its safe dosage, to prevent Covid-19 from affecting them? But sadly as indicated earlier, the poor, who form majority of voters, are suffering the most because of economic crisis caused by corona-panic. As important as the fight against Covid-19 is the need to battle the corona-panic. It is feared that economic threats posed by corona-panic may be much more severe than that of Coronavirus itself.

Sadly, till corona-panic prevails, prospects of even entertainment industry’s revival, including Hollywood and Bollywood, remain fairly remote. Surprisingly, so far, there hasn’t been any news from either end about what kind of social distancing should be maintained in this world of glamour. Can you imagine movies, advertisements and television plays being shot with a certain corona-distance maintained between the actors and others working with them? This also suggests that it is impossible to adhere to much talked about social distancing for too long a period. Assuming that Covid-19 is here to stay, does this imply loss of more jobs? Jobless in urban areas are itching to regain their former avenues of employment, earn and eat properly. In India, there prevails the fear of more people dying of hunger than from Covid-19. Corona-panic is partly responsible for laborers walking back to their villages, saying that they’d never return again.

Repeated extension of lockdown, use of masks and/or even social distancing do not seem to be perfect solution to ease the spread of Covid-19 in countries which did not initiate steps against it from the very beginning. USA, India and UK fall in this bracket. At present, while scientists work on vaccines, impact of HCQS, etc, it would be more sensible if governments give greater importance to measures required for battling corona-panic and economic crisis. Statistically, Coronavirus has affected a small percentage. But corona-panic and economic crisis have affected practically the entire population of India as well as other countries. Leaders need to wake-up to this impact of Covid-19 before the situation worsens!

 

Nilofar Suhrawardy is a senior journalist and writer with specialization in communication studies and nuclear diplomacy. Her latest book is Modi’s Victory, A Lesson for the Congress…? (2019). Others include:– Arab Spring, Not Just a Mirage! (2019), Image and Substance, Modi’s First Year in Office (2015) and Ayodhya Without the Communal Stamp, In the Name of Indian Secularism (2006).

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