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OP-ED: The next wave cometh

  • Published at 03:54 am August 3rd, 2021
Lockdown
Responsible action is needed more than ever BIGSTOCK

A future wave of Covid-19 is a matter of when, not if

At the time of writing, we are witness to what appear to be the last vestiges of the so-called “second wave” of King Covid which caused the devastation recorded in the months of April and May in India. Misplaced conviction that the war on Covid-19 had been won in the country as far back as September 2020, combined with the late realization in the face of tens of thousands of proven casualties that it was a mere skirmish from which we had emerged victorious, a situation further exacerbated by the drought in hospital beds, suitably equipped medical centres and, most importantly, medical oxygen. 

While the number of dead as cited by government and other official websites need to be considered against the absence of a central repository containing the details of each citizen, the accumulated personal stories of horror, the public reportage, and the conservative calculations of the algorithms tell a story of a possible 5 million people having succumbed to the virus in a matter of weeks. Whatever the true number, it will be horrific.

Everything now points to the possibility of the second wave being but a precursor. And in preparation of a disaster that looms, over the past three months, a thousand warnings have issued from the pulpit of officialdom and the various offices of domain expertise as well as through every medium and platform of social media and communication known to us to steel ourselves for a potential, and by all accounts probable, “third wave” of the invisible scourge.

What steps can we take to protect ourselves?

There is surprising uniformity in the messaging, and the ceaseless monotone of a single incantation pervades: “Please get yourself and your family vaccinated!” The effects of complete inoculation are now left to the devices of one’s personal constitution. But no undertaking is without its attendant mixture of variables and questions to which there are no answers. 

While the first injection was administered in the convenient confines of our residential complex, inexplicably free of cost, the second was obtained with some effort while standing impatiently in a very public queue, a collection of persons unaccustomed now to the heat and humidity of an earlier life, chafing at the supposed “delay” when only minutes had elapsed.

There is a gigantic exercise underway to secure the health of the Republic, and we complain of a little heat and dust and proximity to people who because of the circumstances are now an unfamiliar quantity. Ridiculous!

What are the benefits of vaccination? 

It protects by developing an immune response to the SARS-Cov-2 virus, as it is technically referred to, which means that there is a reduced risk of developing the illness and its consequences. This new-found immunity helps one fight the virus if exposed to it. 

The salubrious effects multiply, because one’s being vaccinated by extension protects those around who are then less likely to be infected, a critical outcome when considering protecting people at increased risk of severe illness from King Covid such as health care providers, older or elderly adults, and people with other medical conditions. 

So states the official website of the World Health Organization. Therefore, common sense demands that there is no excuse for not complying with what is now the first commandment of Covid protocol. And no argument please!

Why is there no policy of uniformity in the country with regard to the approach to inoculation? Sometimes the citizens are required to pay, which has without doubt caused the crease of hesitation in the minds of tens of millions, and sometimes they don’t. 

It is the unavoidable condition of a vibrant and mammoth democracy and the way it functions that vast amounts of money need to be withdrawn periodically from the treasury to be spent on undertakings from which there is little if any hope of a return of the expenditure in the near or distant future. 

The identification of the schemes that should benefit from official largesse falls of course to the genius of political astuteness and experience. But in these desperate times where humankind is united by one subject, why could the Republic of India not simply have made the decision to bankroll the entire crusade? Imagine the goodwill to be accrued and the political and social dividend to be reaped by the current dispensation. It boggles the mind.

People continue to travel

One can cease and desist from undertaking any and all forms of travel, especially if the nature of one’s work does not require it. Contrary to reason, tens of millions of people are travelling for what they believe to be a well-deserved rest, and we have as just one example of irresponsible behaviour been treated to appalling images of masses of tourists thronging the town centres of every hill station large enough to accommodate the volume. 

One particularly egregious incident which has invited ire on social media is the pictures of hundreds of merry-makers cavorting at Kempty Falls, Mussoorie, congregated at the base of the waterfall with not one face mask in sight. Have we taken leave of our senses?

The Kawad Yatra looms threateningly on the horizon. Every year, millions of pilgrims trot to the banks of the holy river, fill vessels with water from the Ganga and carry it across hundreds of miles to dispense as offerings in the local shrines dedicated to Lord Shiva, or temples identified by myth and lore such as the Pura Mahadeva and Augharnath temples in Meerut and Kashi Vishwanath in Varanasi. 

While the pilgrimage was not permitted to be undertaken in 2020, there were indications that the procession of piety would commence this year. However, the States of Uttarakhand and Rajasthan took the bold decision not to permit the army of devotees to wend their way through their respective dominions, although there is evidence of some political backtracking, and have been equally firm in respect of the congregating on the auspices of Eid-ul-Adha, and the Chaturmas festival of the Jain community. But have these measures been effective?

Life is apparently being conducted on the basis of the mirage of November 2019. Why is this? Because people are “fed up.” Fed up? Fed up of what? Living? Is the routine of the last 18 months so terrible that one is willing to risk serious illness and even death just because the confines of the home are suddenly considered stifling? 

On May 10 we lost our friend to what appears to have been a particularly virulent strain of King Covid that he so tragically contracted. His in-laws, who were on an extended visit to their children, succumbed soon after. His shell-shocked widow, also suddenly orphaned, lost half her family within a week. 

We as friends and the spontaneous support structure were mute and helpless witnesses to the tragedy and the sorrow that followed in its wake. I would want to be secure in the knowledge that the recipients of my love and affection remain in the realm of the living, regardless of how little contact there may be, rather than be wracked later by the guilt of regret and rapidly fading memory. 

It seems unlikely, however, that we will be spared this in the near future.

The sense of foreboding

Perhaps the shadow of premonition has fallen over the length and breadth of India, one that carries the knowledge of the third wave being a certainty that waits to pounce. Is it this sense of foreboding that triggers the instinct in our fellow citizens to make merry, the lull before the storm, that sends them scrambling to every over-booked hotel and resort in one final opportunity to let their hair down and feel that they have lived a normal life before the darkness again descends? 

Perhaps, but ominous, nevertheless, and definitely no excuse for the irresponsible conduct that spreads virus-like through the country.

Oh Cassandra, no person heeded your warnings, and this was the curse cast by the divinity whom you dared to spurn. Your impassioned pleas to your people, who had so stoically withstood the determined Greek federation, to keep the main gates of the city closed fell on deaf ears. You stood helpless, as the horse, pulled into the main square by your jubilant countrymen, disgorged a stream of eager Greek warriors who had waited for the day when they could eradicate the memory of a city which had the temerity to stand up to them for so long. 

But, Cassandra, as Troy was being destroyed before your eyes, you were not, and never had been, alone in your plight. For it is not in the nature of people to listen to the message of common sense and caution.

Because thousands of years later, it is the legion of doctors, political leaders, medical professionals, and simply all those possessed of a modicum of common sense, who tirelessly scream the message of caution and care, that we continue to be in the midst of the scourge, that it is of paramount importance to be inoculated and still maintain the discipline of hygiene, social distancing, and double mask, but whose exhortations and pleas similarly fall on deaf ears.

But the gates have been thrown wide open. And we watch helplessly as the horse trundles inexorably forward, grinning in its sinister knowledge, pulled along gleefully by the forces of ignorance, callousness, and negligence.

This is us as a species at its lowest, and we can do little to avert a disaster which is surely in the making.

We can now only wait and hope and pray.               

Sumit Basu is a corporate lawyer based in India and is a freelance contributor.

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