Political opportunism amidst confusion over Covid-19 impact

| Updated on March 23, 2020 Published on March 23, 2020

A collective political will is urgently required, along with greater cooperation between the Centre and States, to deal with a critical stage in the transmission of the virus

After over a month-and-a-half of sanguine messaging about the relatively low incidence of Novel Coronavirus Disease (Covid-19) in India, a sudden scaling up of travel restrictions, quarantines and countrywide lockdowns has taken people by surprise. In a matter of just 72 hours since Friday — when Parliament was functioning as usual, President Ramnath Kovind was hosting breakfast meetings with MPs and the message from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) was that India was still in Phase-2 of the disease (which meant that the virus had not spread to the community) — we have transited to large-scale lockdowns and a widespread sense of chaos. Before Sunday afternoon, for instance, people had no inkling of whether 80 cities across the country including the Capital Delhi would be under a lockdown; nor do they still fully comprehend its impact on their everyday life.

Notwithstanding this sudden shift in the national mood, both the BJP and the Opposition parties have sought to score political brownie points. This has led to confused messaging on the scale and impact of the pandemic. Along with the clanging of steel plates and clapping on the evening of the “Janata curfew” on Sunday, politicians of all hues chose to gather large crowds against all health warnings. Bipartisanship and collective political spirit have been missing in the face of a stark need to take steps to deal with the crisis at hand. There was no dialogue between the ruling party and the Opposition to discuss and incorporate measures in the Finance and Appropriations Bill, which has to be passed before March 31, to deal with economic distress due to Covid-19. No discussions were similarly held to curtail this session of Parliament which has exposed at least 2,000 people as some MPs, such as Dushyant Singh of BJP, have been in contact with a Covid-19 positive person. No attempt has so far been made to replicate practices adopted in States such as Kerala in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.

After the first case was reported in Kerala on January 30, the State authorities tracked down as many as 719 people who had come in his contact and tested all those who were in primary and secondary contact. The State has collaborated with the ICMR to increase its testing facilities to ten and is planning to expand the scope further by involving the private sector. However, at the national level, travel restrictions and lockdowns have still not been accompanied by the level of rapid testing that was deployed by China and South Korea to contain the spread of the virus. A collective political will is urgently required, along with greater cooperation between the Centre and States, to deal with a critical stage in the transmission of the virus. While that urgency might have begun to take shape, political opportunism needs to be checked.

Published on March 23, 2020
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