The empty streets and eerie silence during Sunday’s nationwide janata curfew reminded one of a grim sci-fi thriller, a portent for an apocalyptic future. As Delhi, along with most other states and Union territories, went into a lockdown of unprecedented proportions to combat the spread of the deadly coronavirus, the country braced itself for difficult times ahead.
Public transport, including the Metro, taxis, autorickshaws and e-rickshaws were off the roads in the Capital. A few Delhi Transport Corporation buses plied but they were few and far between, leaving healthcare professionals and others providing essential services stranded.
The Capital like many other states and Union territories tried to ensure that most people stayed indoors but recalcitrant citizens defied orders and rushed to markets to buy essentials fearing that the stocks would not last. The few shops that were open quickly ran out of basic items like eggs, bread and milk.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal have exhorted people to strictly follow the lockdown protocol. In many states curfew like conditions prevail. However, lockdowns and the new buzz phrase, social distancing, are meaningless in a densely populated society like India’s.
What about the homeless, the migrant workers and others on the margins of society? It’s a double whammy for them. Apart from the loss of livelihood there is also the increased risk of contracting the deadly disease when India enters the third stage of community transmission, which according to some medical professionals, it already has.
The central and state governments appear to have the situation under control by enforcing strict curbs, cancelling flights and trains, but experts warn that India is in for a long haul, and there is the fear of an explosion or recurrence of cases once the lockdowns are lifted. The healthcare system in India is woefully inadequate to deal with the numbers that are being projected by national and international experts.
Testing facilities are also lacking. In the last few days there has been an exponential spike in COVID 19 cases, suggesting that the system will be overburdened sooner rather than later. Government medical facilities are not attuned to deal with a catastrophe of the magnitude that is being projected, given the levels of short-staffing and lack of medical equipment including ventilators.
At such a time, hospitals in the private sector must rise to the occasion, set their profit margins aside, and open up their doors for all those who need expert medical treatment. As a drastic measure, the government could even consider temporarily nationalising healthcare facilities and set up thousands of testing centres.
Right now, most experts concede that India is way behind in testing for coronavirus cases and the actual numbers could be much more that what the official data states. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. Now is the time to take bold action to tackle this unexpected problem that has brought the whole world to its knees.