As India prepares for its complete lockdown on Sunday, March 22, the panic over the pandemic grows. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his address to the nation on March 19 advised people to stay indoors for the whole of Sunday from 7 am to 9 pm, ring bells and clap hands in recognition of the services of doctors, nurses and those involved in emergency services, the panic appears to have intensified.
Across the country, there is a mad rush to hoard essentials as if a big disaster is in the making. In Kerala, where the awareness of the pandemic is higher and its Chief Minister announced a host of relief measures that has instilled some level of confidence, there is panic buying and ATMs have been witnessing a rush, similar to the one in August 2018 when the floods ravaged the State.
One cannot blame the people for this hasty reaction. The Prime Minister compared the situation to the World Wars. His call to clap hands and ring bells on the model in Italy which now appears the most affected country.
But what struck most people, who anxiously waited for the Prime Minister’s address and hoped some financial package would be announced as even without the pandemic the country’s economy has been passing through a scaringly bad phase, was that nothing happened. Beyond a hand clap or a bell ring, there was nothing substantial for the medical sector, something like creating more testing centres, some financial assistance to provide a boost to hospital infrastructure, something that would help mitigate the suffering and anxiety of the people. It was deep in emotion and said nothing of what the Government proposed to do.
The essence of what he had to tell the citizens was “Today, 130 crore Indians will have to strengthen their resolve that they will perform their duties to fight this global pandemic, they will have to decide to follow guidelines set out by state and central governments.”
This was in sharp contrast to what the state of Kerala did. On the very same day, the Chief Minister announced a Rs 20,000-crore package. It included Rs 500 crore being set apart to the health services sector. Besides, all social security pensions would be paid immediately, loans and free ration and a substantial amount towards rural employment guarantee projects. Whether the Government has the funds for all this and how successfully the programme will be implemented remains to be seen.
The State’s efforts in facing the pandemic have even won the Supreme Court’s laurels. Even when schools were closed, the mid-day meal scheme was not stopped and food reached the students at the doorstep. Even prisons have isolation wards, something that the apex court said was only there in Tihar Jail.
Kerala has remained a model earning the praise of world organisations since long. Despite having still not come out of the disaster that the floods in 2018 and 2019 left across the State, its drive to contain the spread and the financial support given have once again made it stay above others. The Opposition’s charge against the Government and its Health Minister addressing the media frequently is being seen by most in the State as nothing but a response to being hurt over the public acknowledgment of the services done to fight COVID-19.
People in Kerala expected the Prime Minister to hail the State’s efforts and pronounce a strategy to deal with the crisis. It could have at least announced a package to States to take forward the mitigation efforts.
But as the crisis is growing such emotional approaches will not come to the country’s rescue. There is the need to support States, make an assessment of the financial burden the pandemic has sown and come out with a clear-cut policy backed by sound financial strategy to surmount this crisis.