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Friday, August 7, 2020

India Cross 2 Million COVID-19 Cases!

India has crossed 2 million or 20 lakh COVID-19 cases with the record high spike of 62538 new cases in the last twenty-four hours. The 1 million mark was breached on 17th July and so, it has taken just 21 days to double it. The doubling rate at 21 days seems to be quite alright, but considering the numbers at this stage the overall situation is far from healthy. The twenty-four-hour spikes of new cases were in the 30s leading to the 1 million mark and then the spikes began to ascend to the 50s and now even 60s to breach the 2 million mark. We had emphasized earlier that total active cases of around 3,00,000 in the country looked to be under control as far as the limitation of the health infra was concerned.  But now, although the recovery rate has further improved to over 66% and the fatality rate has declined further to around 2.1%, the increasing active cases of more than 6,00,000 might put the health infra under tremendous pressure, at least in some states. The peak levels, as usual, seem to be eluding the country still, barring the metros of Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai. This scenario is reflective of the Indian reality.

Various states of the country are resorting to haphazard impositions of lockdown instead of looking at the Indian reality and taking the new normal seriously. The bursting population and almost over-the-limit population density of the country demands strict adherence to and the complete implementation of the precautions and norms to be followed. Trains and airplanes have been operating since May, but the new normal measures last up to boarding only and what transpires after the alighted passengers land at various destinations is anybody’s guess. Masks are compulsory no doubt, but what about social or physical distancing! Some states, in the spirit of Unlocks, have allowed 100% attendance in offices without ensuring full operation of the public transport system. They should, instead, have encouraged the new normal of ‘working from home’ making it absolute necessary for the coming months. When you cannot take the risk of opening up public transport, including metro railway, fully, you have no right to ask everyone to attend the offices. Frequent lockdowns, asking them to stay home again, is not a solution at all.

Of course, implementation of social distancing is going to be a huge challenge here. I have seen myself the crowding at grocery stores despite the attempts at social distancing: if the stores do not allow more customers in they would crowd the entrance and the streets, and so, when they are forced to allow entry for disgruntled customers, crowding would take place inside the stores with people totally disregarding the norms in desperate bids to shop all they want and falling over each other in the process. This scenario applies to all public stores, supermarkets and other public places. Bigger challenge is how to implement social distancing in the metro trains whenever the services are allowed: authorities will have to supervise every station and every coach of the trains, and if they restrict passengers boarding the crowds would then swell in the stations and spill over in the streets. Reopening schools, colleges and educational institutions would the next huge challenge. Some states have announced SOPs for opening these, but the practicability of such measures is likely to create dissent and unrest. Not to speak about reopening cinema halls, bars and all entertainment outlets.

The Indian reality stares at all of us, and how to go about it is the trillion-dollar question. The most practical thing to do at the moment would be to ensure only a limited number of people going out on a daily basis, by fully implementing the norms of work-from-home, online classes, online exams, online shopping, online entertainment programs by allowing television channels to make or continue the serials with strict SOPs and even making new and newer movies available online. Compensation packages must be announced for the hospitality and the entertainment sectors.

This is the Indian reality that is making the behavior of the Coronavirus unpredictable in this country. We had seen it fully from the beginning when the left-dangling migrant workers’ issue forced the governments to start the railway operations much too early leading to the spread of the virus to the interior regions. Even after relating aggressive testing at 6-7 lakh daily at the present stage to the rise in new cases, we are at a loss to explain the scenario convincingly. Every state in India is like a country in terms of area and population, and so, when the spread is contained in a particular area or city, the virus invades the other regions in the meantime. In Maharashtra, the surge began in Mumbai from April and by July the peak seemed to be over; but the virus started invading various other districts which accounts for the continuing 10000+ new cases daily in the state.

At the moment, situation in states like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, even Kerala which state showed exemplary containment in the beginning, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Assam. Although Tamil Nadu is the second worst-hit state the number of active cases are declining there with the recovery rate reaching nearly 80%. Some other states where testing is still comparatively low are also of great concern, because the surge there may intensify further in near future. The killer virus capitalizes on different weaknesses in different countries to maximize its spread and the examples are ample from USA, Brazil, India and others. As I have been emphasizing repeatedly in these pages, the citizens of the world must take it upon themselves to defeat COVID-19 adapting to the new normal with utmost sincerity, at least till the time when an effective vaccine arrives. 

Monday, August 3, 2020

Fight Against COVID-19: An Example Gone Wrong!

After the national lockdown from 25th March, 2020 was announced in India a grocery supermarket in a particular locality of a major Indian city set a very good example of crowd control and health hygiene. Since it was the only reliable supermarket in a large area consisting of numerous high-rise housing societies there was a constant rush of customers at the store. Within a few days of lockdown the store introduced a novel token system: customers had to collect tokens in the morning, in a two-hour period from 7-9 am; every token had a time-slot embedded over it during which the token-holder could come, display the token and do the marketing; the slots allotted were of half-hour duration and within those half-hour periods maximum twenty customers were allowed in. Every customer had to compulsorily wear masks, undergo temperature checks and hand sanitization before entering the store. Everyone in the area hailed this exemplary move. The effects were strikingly visible, there being no rush of customers at the main gate of the campus at any point of time with strict discipline and order prevailing under the round-the-clock supervision by the store staff.

However, after a few days had passed, lapses started becoming increasingly visible. The overlap between the time-slots went on increasing as the customers, slotted for specific times, regularly arrived late, and insisted on being given entry, considering the efforts they had put in for that. The store staff could not afford to run roughshod over a large number of customers, and so they asked them to queue up for entry. Very often, there were serpentine queues in front of the main gate spilling over to the side lane. Up to a point social distancing was observed with circles marked out, but as the queues were very long most of the time there were more customers than the circles. To satisfy customers the store staff had to sacrifice their own norm of allowing twenty customers in a particular half-hour slot. This led to the inevitable: there happened constant crowding inside with the usual jostling and even pushing, trolleys and humans moving haywire.

This continued for around two months. As more and more relaxations were announced by the governments the token system was finally abandoned allowing customers freely anytime in the day. The exemplary ‘new normal’ was given up for the ‘normal’. A few discerning customers found the crowding inside too much and scary, and many of them decided not to visit the store anymore, depending fully on home deliveries. In the meantime, COVID cases in that locality started rising exponentially, and the authorities, soon afterwards, clamped down a three-week strict lockdown in that division not allowing even grocery stores to open.

Terrifying news hit several housing societies. More than ten people of nearby buildings were infected all of which were traced to the supermarket; and four of them died struggling against the virus for weeks in hospitals. All of the four dead were in prime health and aged below fifty years. Despite masks, temperature checks and hand hygiene at the store entrance the virus strain proved to be highly contagious and virulent causing tragic deaths that could have been avoided.

Although this is a locality-specific example, it is truly representative of the growing lax and complacent attitudes shown by the citizens in various regions across the globe as the fight against the killer virus completes more than six months. Buoyed by a rising recovery rate, a declining fatality rate and the fact that most of them still remain uninfected, the people stop following the norms strictly, assuming an attitude of complacency and carelessness only wanting desperately to go back to the old lovable normalcy. They continuously ignore and wave aside the warnings and advisories that COVID-19 is going to stay with us for an indefinite period and that repeated regimes of lockdowns are neither feasible nor solutions. They also do not realize the fact that governments alone cannot save them from the virus and that their cooperation is crucial in the fight against the virus.

Recently the World Health Organization (WHO) warned all nations and citizens against a possible ‘response fatigue’ which is extremely significant in this context. The governments and the citizens must never tire of carrying on the protective fight; they must understand that the fight is set to be a long one, and the best course would be to adapt to the new normal as quickly and effectively as possible. All the innovative and good examples must not be allowed to wane and go waste; on the contrary, these must be replenished with more and more initiatives. 

Sunday, August 2, 2020

An Ode To Friendship!

What is friendship? Well, friendship is too vast a concept or a relationship for a clear-cut definition. In fact, it always remains better-off undefined, and even unfathomable. For practical purposes though, friendships are based on mutual likes, mutual respect, mutual love and a whole limitless world of mutuality. Some friends are made instantly, on the first exchange of mutual likes or in line with that saying ‘love at first sight’ being replaced with ‘friendship at first sight’, while some others take time to bloom into a perfect relationship. It is not necessary to have everything in common to be friends: friends can have diametrically opposite interests or even ideologies or passions or professions and yet be the best of friends. Mind you, like marriages friends are not made in heaven, they are technically ‘made in planet earth’ only.

Although friendships mostly develop and bloom amid school/college/university classmates, children in a neighborhood, friends’ friends, peers and office colleagues it can happen anytime with anyone at any stage of life. It is also totally free of the age factor, a 15-year-old can be the best of pals with a 60 or more-year-old. It is also free of all language, ethnicity, region, religion or culture barriers. Contrary to patriarchal beliefs it is also free of the gender factor, a boy can have an equally limitless friendship with a girl and vice versa. Therefore, if a true friendship is the basis between boys and girls then the terms of ‘girlfriends’ or ‘boyfriends’ are misnomers.

Again, contrary to the general belief that members of the family cannot be friends, friendship can bloom even between grandchildren and grandparents; children and parents; between siblings and in-laws; and with anyone, everyone. Friendship can in fact add a refreshing dimension to such relationships. Therefore, people need not hesitate to send friend requests to their family and kin too on the social media. With the world becoming a closed and small place digitally there can also be friends irrespective of the huge geographical distances, the instant communication facility being the bonding factor. It’s basically the bond that drives the friendship vehicle seamlessly around, both in reality and in virtual reality. However, a mere ‘friend’ on the social media does not necessarily signify friendship.

Friendship provides the truest form of a liberal democracy: you can talk, debate or dispute anything under the sun with friends; a friend will never undermine you for your weaknesses or limitations; friends do have the right to quarrel bitterly between themselves too and yet remain friends; selfish motives never penetrate a friendship bond and if it does then it’s not friendship; and absolutely nothing of the kind of competitiveness or rivalry ever figures in a friendship. People often confuse between business relationships and friendships for such reasons; however, it is possible to chisel out friendship here too, if the ‘business’ part is dealt and dispensed with diligently.

The beauty of friendship is that it is not at all necessary to do any maintenance work for keeping it up which means you need not visit your friends or call your friends or write/message to your friends at regular intervals to show that you are still friends. You can be in the same city or thousands of miles apart and you can be out of touch for months, years or even decades, and yet you can reunite anytime anywhere basking in the undiminished glory of your friendship as if nothing had happened. Therefore, the observance of ‘Friendship Day’ once or more in a year is not at all necessary to rekindle your friendships or to justify it by sending inspiring messages or by shedding abundant tears of remembrance. But of course, such occasions make you ponder, introspect and even write something about it, call it an ode or notes as you may prefer.

Friendship is selfless, limitless; friendship is forever. Perhaps the best ever gift of God bestowed on humankind. Celebrate friendship every moment of your life, and be proud you have them by your side, always. 

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