To a nation that views announcements of an address by the Prime Minister with a degree of apprehension, Wednesday’s speech by Mr Narendra Modi was salutory. It should come as both a breath of fresh air as well as a sincere caution.

In warning Indians on the pitfalls of ignoring basic public health measures, the Prime Minister sent a simple message ~ that while India might draw comfort from its relatively low fatality rate and the significant numbers of its recoveries, there is absolutely no room for complacency.

Certainly, news reports from around the country suggest that Indians have either shed their fears, or chosen to ignore them, as they have jumped headlong into festivities in West Bengal, electoral campaigns in Bihar and shopping extravaganzas elsewhere. Coming as it did on the eve of the extended festival season ~ Dussehra, Durga Puja, Diwali, the Prophet’s birthday, Gurpurab and Christmas ~ the message was timely and thus must be heeded by citizens.

Drawing attention to photographs and videos that exhibit recklessness of people in public places, the Prime Minister cautioned: “This is absolutely not right. Those who have become negligent and are moving about without masks are putting themselves and their families, including children and the elderly, at risk.”

While affirming that resumption of economic activity was necessary, and was taking place, Mr Modi warned that the Covid management position which was stable could not be allowed to deteriorate. “We must keep in mind that while lockdown may have ended, the virus is still there. This is not the time to be negligent, this is not the time to believe that corona is gone or there is no danger from it,” the Prime Minister said.

Viewed in perspective, Mr Modi’s message is important. With the exception of China, which somehow manages to present a picture of normality, countries around the world that had seemed to control the spread of the disease are reporting fresh waves of afflictions.

In Europe, for instance, many countries have been forced to re-impose restrictions in the past few days, after the virus re-surfaced with considerable severity. While India has managed to augment its healthcare infrastructure in the past few months, there certainly isn’t any room for a casual approach, or indeed for the kind of negligence that has been on display.

News media outlets have in recent days reported how people have made themselves believe that they are somehow immune to the virus and are seen flouting distancing requirements as well as giving up on the use of face masks. These are worrying signs for they suggest that as people find excuses to leave home ~ to partake of festivities, or to join poll rallies ~ they expose themselves to risk and the country to the possibility of a public health emergency that may easily spiral out of control. The Prime Minister’s caution must be heeded ~ by every Indian, and without hesitation.