FACEMASKS pulled down to the chin in marketplaces, miles of traffic jams of cars with tourists going up the hills, people congregating everywhere with no social distancing — have we actually beaten Covid-19? We saw such scenes earlier this year, too — in February, when the first wave of the pandemic was receding, the number of new cases had fallen to below 10,000 a day and Covid care centres were being closed. A month earlier, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, no less, had declared: ‘In a country which is home to 18% of the world population, that country has saved humanity from a big disaster by containing corona effectively.’ It is clear that we — the government and the people — let our guard down: The second wave was brutal and horrifying, and over 2.1 lakh Covid-19 deaths have been recorded in India since April 1.
We are repeating the mistake of lowering the guard even though new cases are still quite high at over 60,000 a day. This, surely, is an open invitation to the third wave which, in the opinion of the experts, is inevitable. It seems we have already forgotten the scenes of devastation caused by the pandemic in April and May — patients dying outside hospitals, carers queuing up all night to get an oxygen cylinder, playgrounds turned into mass cremation centres because regular crematoriums were overwhelmed. Across India, authorities are at their wits’ end as they try to make people follow safety regulations. In Chandigarh, around 50,000 people have been fined since March 23 for violating norms; Kolkata is arresting or prosecuting an average of 630 persons per day for not adhering to the rules; as Mumbai opened up, face-mask rule violations doubled — overall, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation has collected over Rs 57.5 crore in fines since April 2020. In Bengaluru, cops say neither fines nor seizing of vehicles is deterring violators.
Violating rules is a pan-India problem, and it is exacerbated by both politicians and priests encouraging people to gather for political rallies or religious congregations. For a country that spends 1.29% of its GDP on health, and which has a creaking health infrastructure, the indifference of the people towards rules is nothing short of criminal.
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