The coronavirus pandemic continues to rage. India’s caseload crossed 60 lakhs on September 27, with over 80,000 fresh infections recorded that day. The death toll is nearing one lakh. On Sunday, Septemebr 27, it numbered 95,573 with 1,100 deaths recorded that day alone. Without doubt, the number of people infected would be far more than officially known since testing continues to be less than satisfactory. Most people avoid testing, others who want it either find it unaffordable or unreachable, given the thinly spread health services in the country, especially in semi-urban and rural areas.
On Sunday, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan cautioned against complacency, warning that India was far from having achieved any kind of herd immunity. Given that some state governments are anxiously waiting for herd immunity in order for them to justify a full reopening of the economy, Vardhan’s cautionary words should dampen their enthusiasm for restoring complete normalcy. There is no point rushing into the old normalcy and then regret it when the virus attacks more and more people.
A case in point is Kerala. Initially, when the pandemic hit the country, the state was considered one of the best in the country, with its Health Minister K K Shailaja, a school dropout, feted widely for having done a good job. Now, the state is one of the worst-hit, its positivity rate standing at over 13 per cent on Sunday. There were 7,445 new cases on Sunday, with the Health Minister warning of a complete state-wide lockdown should the incidence of infections continue unabated. The short point about Covid-19 is that nobody knows how to contain the devil microbe. Period. It is all Ram Bharosey.
Aside from China, whose claims anyway ought to be taken with more than a pinch of salt, there is no country in the world, no, none in the rich world or poor, which has overcome the threat of the virus fully with anything close to scientific handling. In some of the European countries which had opened up after suffering a huge number of fatalities under complete and extended lock-down conditions, there is now a second surge. They are again clamping down on free movement of citizens, enforcing wearing of masks, minimum social distancing and night time curfews. This is true of Spain, France, the UK, etc.
A fierce debate on whether or not to reopen schools is on in the UK, with the authorities keen to open while teachers’ unions being dead set against reopening. In London, after encouraging people to eat out and even giving them 50 per cent subsidy on spending in restaurants and pubs, the Boris Johnson Government has now warned of a second spurt, and ordered the closure of all restaurants and pubs at 10pm. In France, tens of thousands held marches to protest the renewed restrictions on free movement and on mandatory wearing of masks.
As for the US, it has been a blunderbuss of confusion and chaos, with Trump undermining any serious effort at scientific handling of the biggest health crisis of our times. With over two lakh American fatalities and still counting, the US is a textbook case of how not to deal with a pandemic. In sharp contrast, we in India, despite our humongous population, in spite of the general lack of awareness about health issues, a woeful health infrastructure, etc., seem not to be doing badly in containing this unseen, unfathomable killer virus floating around in the air. Hopefully, the herd immunity which Health Minister Harsh Vardhan is waiting for will soon be here. Until then, there is need for every citizen to protect herself with the mask, social distancing and hand washing and so on.
RIP: Jaswant Singh
Jaswant Singh, who died on Sunday after six years in coma following a brain haemorrhage, was the kind of politician who would stand out in any crowd, be it of city-bred intellectuals, professional politicians or even a gathering of farmers. For, he combined in his imposing persona the best qualities of all three distinctive professions. A highly refined and educated man was a rarity in politics, in the BJP more so.
Again, a gentleman-politician who, despite holding the key portfolios of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Finance in the Vajpayee Government, boasted the cleanest of squeaky-clean records. It was no small achievement. Considering that the Congress has its own share of educated and articulate politicians who, typically, sully their spotless white lungis with the stain of wrongdoing whichever ministry they are allocated. Singh served as an intellectual arm of Vajpayee from the day the BJP was founded in Mumbai way back in 1980. Vajpayee had faith in his capabilities.
At the time of the Kandahar hijack, true to the uniform of a Major he had worn in the Indian Army till his premature retirement, he volunteered to escort the four terrorists, to bring back nearly 180 Indians. Their lives were at stake and he did not want to jeopardise them with his absence should the hijackers create last-minute hurdles. In the absence of communications between Kandahar and New Delhi, presence of a senior minister able to decide on the spot was necessary, though Singh knew it would be politically troublesome for him. But he was willing to wear the cross for the sake of 180-odd Indians whose lives hung between life and death on the whims of the terrifying hijackers. It is grossly unfair to blame Singh for the intense pressure on the Government to exchange the terrorists for private Indian Airlines passengers. It reflected a collective failure of the nation, with Singh only following the popular wishes.
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