A few days ago, my 81-year-old maternal aunt called me up from Kolkata. She sounded a bit alarmed and tense at the exponential rise in Covid cases across many cities, especially Mumbai. My aunt advised me to remain careful and wondered when this virus would leave us alone. She even rued how people, now going by the moniker Covidiots, are not following Covid-appropriate rules properly. Her worries are justified.
Exactly a year after the virus yanked us out of our comfort zones, things seem to be coming full circle again, with cases surging with a vengeance in Mumbai, Punjab and in many other cities. Many residents of the housing society where I live, have abandoned wearing masks, while taking their morning and evening walks. I can’t help but marvel at their courage, nay bravado, in giving the impression as if the pandemic is a thing of the past. You would be wasting your time and energy if you, as a solicitous neighbour, were to advise them to wear masks.
With several countries in Europe witnessing an exponential rise in coronavirus cases, it is obvious that we are nowhere close to taming the vicious virus that is making merry across the world. Things are no different in the US despite the frenetic pace of vaccination, as cases continue to rise with metronomic regularity.
In the last few months, we have seen how feckless politicians in our country, despite the potential corona threat, are plunging into the heat and dust of political campaigning in different states, reducing social distancing to sheer mockery as the crowds gathered at these rallies hardly had their masks on. Ironically, it is the politicians who should be leading by example, asking people to maintain pandemic protocol in these abnormal times.
Truth be told, rallies are nothing but political spectacles and a show of strength in the run-up to the election. But who cares? All is fair in politics. Last year, the former US president, Donald Trump, refused to wear a mask in public and ridiculed others who did.
But are only politicians to blame when it comes to taking the virus lightly? Isn’t the notion that politicians are at the root of every problem an old chestnut? Covidiots are equally to blame for endangering the lives of others. If you happen to visit a market, or a mall (in Mumbai, this is going to set you back by Rs 250 for a Covid test), in the evening in your neighbourhood, chances are, these would be crowded, with no social distancing rules in place. Not just youngsters, even the middle-aged can be seen wearing masks like appendages under the chin.
Recently, a leading national daily carried a photograph of Delhi’s famous Sarojini Market, where people, despite wearing masks, made a mockery of social distancing norms. The market was so crowded that it was difficult to believe that we are living in Covid times.
A few days before Holi, thousands of devotees gathered at the Sri Radha Rani temple in Barsana for laddu maar Holi. Majority of those gathered there were not wearing masks. The same is the case in Mumbai too these days, with vegetable markets remaining packed with customers right from morning till evening; with many moving around without face masks. Things are no different in other metros as well.
A Delhi High Court judge, C Hari Shankar, who travelled on a national carrier in early March, was shocked to find most of his fellow passengers travelling without face masks. He registered a suo motu writ petition in the Delhi High Court. The court, acting on the petition of Justice Hari Shankar, said, “It is constrained to pass the order because of an alarming situation which was witnessed” during the Air India flight from Kolkata to Delhi on March 5.
Justice Hari Shankar’s exemplary initiative needs to be lauded. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation responded by saying that passengers would be “de-boarded” from flight if found not wearing masks properly or not displaying Covid-19 appropriate behaviour. One hopes this will act as a deterrent to those passengers behaving without a skerrick of responsibility towards and concern for others.
The decision of the government to vaccinate all above 45 years from April 1 has been widely welcomed. One hopes the vaccination drive gathers steam in the coming months so that those above 21 years also get their jabs by June this year. We should keep in mind that even after getting two jabs, we have to continue to be extremely careful by following protocols like wearing masks when we step out of the house and avoiding crowded places.
Getting the monkey off our back is not going to be easy. Our patience may be wearing thin after a year as we strain at the leash to return to our pre-Covid days; at times, by ignoring certain survival imperatives. But the fight with the virus is still not over yet. The time has not come to let our guard down.
The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi.