By - Dr. Rimmei Longmei
Head, Dept. of Political Science
Tetso College, Dimapur
COVID-19 is affecting more and more nations in each passing day. According to World Health Organization data, as of 25 March 2020, there are 198 countries, territories or areas with reported laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths. In terms of death toll, Italy, China, Spain, Iran and France top the list. In many other countries the coronavirus curve has spiked up. Now coronavirus deaths passes 50,000. In India, as of 2nd April 2020, according to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), coronavirus pandemic has affected more than 2000 people including 55 foreign nationals and caused more than 53 deaths. After the Prime Minister’s announcement on 24 March 2020, a complete ban is being imposed on people from stepping out of their homes. Hospital isolation of all confirmed cases, tracing and home quarantine of the contracts is ongoing. According to a report of an international team of scientists, India may face up to 13 lakh cases of COVID-19 by mid-May, if the current trend in the growing number of coronavirus pandemic cases continues.
Regarding the virus as we have seen it, World Health Organization Country Office in China first got the information about it on 31st December 2019. On 30th January 2020 WHO declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. Then on 11th February 2020 it announced a name for the new coronavirus disease –COVID-19.
In India, the Government has called for one-day Janata Curfew on 22nd March 2020 and after banning all flights announced for country lockdown from March 26 till April 14, 2020. According to WHO representative to India, Dr. Henk Bekedam WHO Country Office for India has been working closely with MoHFW on preparedness and response measures for COVID-19, including surveillance and contract tracing, laboratory diagnosis, risk communications and community engagement, hospital preparedness, infection prevention and control and implementation of containment plan. He said WHO stands together in solidarity with India and its people and is committed to providing all the support that is needed. In his latest address to the nation on 3 April 2020, Prime Minister Modi urged the people of India to light up candle on 5 April 2020 at 9 P.M. for 9 minutes to use light to challenge the darkness spread by corona. He also said no one should breach the ‘Lakshman Rekha’ of social distancing which is the only possible way to stop the spread of coronavirus.
There’s currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19 yet although many claims to have developed some vaccines. As of now we only have many do’s and don’ts to protect ourselves and help prevent spreading the virus to others. People are being asked to know the basic safety measures against the coronavirus to protect self, family, community, nation and humanity.
Any epidemic outbreak causes understandable panic. But the Covid-19 has caused overwhelming fear everywhere in the world particularly as the world is counting the number of coronavirus infections and deaths ever since the World Health Organization declared it to be a global pandemic. The global situation is still precarious amid speculation about a possible second wave of infections.
The primary effect of COVID-19 is psychological and this psychological impact is even stronger than the physical effect. In part the widespreadness of COVID-19 and the overwhelming fear of it is due to the dramatic nature of the reports and updates of the coronavirus cases, especially as shown on television news and in social media. COVID-19 also gains attention because of the randomness of victims. As of now, although the global toll from coronavirus pandemic topped 50,000, the number of deaths continued to soar in many countries triggering a massive fear that tens of millions of people around the world would soon be infected and would eventually be killed by the virus. It has caused death anxiety everywhere. Perhaps, Shock, Fear and Sadness grip all humans all over the world.
On the other side, although there is a growing global consensus that efforts to protect public health in the face of the coronavirus pandemic demand temporary sacrifices of some individual freedoms, the United Nations Human Rights experts have urged countries to ensure their emergency responses to the coronavirus must be proportionate,, necessary and non-discriminatory. They said “while we recognize the severity of the current health crisis and acknowledge that the use of emergency powers is allowed by international law in response to significant threats, we urgently remind States should not abuse emergency measures to suppress human rights”.
This is because as novel coronavirus lockdowns have been expanded globally, billions of people have found that they are now faced with unprecedented restrictions. Police across the world have been given license to control behavior through teargassing, beatings, and bleaching on people. Concerns are growing that police forces around the world are using grueling and humiliating punishments to enforce quarantine on the poorest and most vulnerable groups who live hand-to-mouth and risk starving if they do not defy lockdowns and seek work. Human Rights Watch has said that freedom of expression and access to information should be protected by governments. While some restrictions on rights such as those limiting freedom of movement could be justified, transparency and respect for human dignity is a must.
In India, with the Government calling for one-day Janata Curfew on 22nd March 2020 its fight against the deadly virus has started but ‘coronavirus’ has become a racist slur against people from Northeast India ever since. Many people from Northeast took to social media platforms and said that they have been called ‘coronavirus’, attacked, beaten, abused, spat on and even denied entering the shops. All these actions of our fellow Indians are nothing but ‘the resurgence of racism and xenophobia’ in India. Punitive and preventive actions taken by the Government so far are highly appreciated but what is more important is to erase off racism and xenophobia from the minds of those who have already become racists and xenophobic in the country. Also India needs to fight to keep the pandemic from becoming communalized.
As regards the issue of dealing with the lockdown or curfew violations in India, while the government’s action to enforce preventive and safety guidelines during the 21-day countrywide lockdown is understandable, what the opposition leaders are saying right after the PM Modi’s latest address to the nation on Friday is also considerable in so far they are calling for the government to focus on key issues during the ongoing lockdown and focus on real issues to fight effectively against the coronavirus pandemic. What they are saying is that empty symbolism and curating a feel-good moment without announcing concrete economic measures is of no use or will do no good. They wanted to know how the government will protect poor workers and the venerable poorest of the poor. On the lighter note the opposition welcomed the government’s economic package worth Rs. 1.7 trillion to ease the impact of the 21-day lockdown to stop the spread of COVID-19 pandemic but did not give full marks saying it is too little and inadequate. As long as the opposition and the concerned citizens feed the government with good suggestions, the government will do well for the good of the people.
- Published in Guest Column