As I traverse back into the times and look at the bygone year, the first thing which comes into my mind is the disturbing images and countless stories of pain and sufferings of millions of Indians, their fear and anxiety, their anger and frustration, their difficulties and fight for survival in a new world completely dominated by the coronavirus which has been responsible for millions of deaths across the globe.
On March 24, 2021, the 21-day long nationwide lockdown announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in an unprecedented drastic measure to break the chain of infections caused by the COVID-19 virus, will complete one year.
I still remember I was not at home when the Prime Minister suddenly appeared on the national television around 8 PM on March 24 last year and, without a prior warning, announced that a three-week national lockdown would be enforced to curb the spread of the deadly Coronavirus.
There was some medical emergency with one of my close relatives and I had gone to see him at a hospital in Saket. The doctors had just shifted my relative to a private ward after his four-hour-long surgery and we were there taking care of him, completely unaware of what had happened in between.
After nearly half-an-hour, when we came out to go back home around 9 PM, we saw chaotic scenes and people running helter-skelter and mobile phones ringing.
I too checked mine and noticed that there were several missed calls. As we came to the reception, we saw people hooked on to the big TV there and watching the repeat telecast of PM Modi’s lockdown announcement that was to come into force from midnight to combat the deadly disease.
After sensing the situation, I was numb, panic-stricken for a few seconds…... I had goosebumps…an unknown fear had seeped into my mind…what will happen now, how will we handle this situation…what will I do if this happens….ration, groceries, milk, medicines….there were so many questions...
My mobile phone was continuously ringing...my parents who live in Allahabad, my wife at home, my younger brothers who live abroad were continuously calling me. Naturally, they were all worried.
I checked the time. it was 9.30 PM. I called my wife – the first thing I did at that moment - and assured her that I was on my way back home and asked her to tell family members not to worry. Then I rushed to an ATM located in the vicinity of the hospital to withdraw some money, thinking that some extra cash would be good in these times.
There was a long queue outside the ATM and some 10-15 odd people were ahead of me waiting for their turn. Probably, they were all driven by the same human psychology of stacking cash and other essentials to meet the unforeseen situation.
On my turn, I withdrew nearly Rs 15000 and hired an auto to go back home. As I was reaching close to my Apartment in Patparganj, I thought of buying milk packets. Upon reaching the nearest Mother Dairy booth, I saw a serpentine queue of people lined up to buy milk and other essentials.
I witnessed a similar situation outside the Safal outlet just next to the Mother Dairy booth where many people from the nearby societies had gathered to buy groceries and other items.
Clearly, PM Modi’s sudden announcement had started to show its cascading effect on the panic-stricken people’s mind and there were trying to hoard things as much as they can. Though in his announcement, the PM had urged people not to panic and assured that the supply of essentials items would continue but who cared.
Much to my surprise, I saw the crowd swell at both the outlets in no time as people knew only a few hours were left before the lockdown comes into effect. The early birds were able to buy things more than they needed and soon both the shops ran out of stock.
Luckily, I had managed to buy five packets of milk by that time and rushed towards my apartment. While opening the door, my wife welcomed me with a barrage of questions. In my absence, she has had long conversations with our parents and the neighbours about the emerging situation and concerns about rising coronavirus cases.
My kids, one in class 6th and the other in class 3 – looked puzzled too as to what this lockdown meant to them, why can’t they go outside, and more importantly, how will they confine themselves to the four walls of their apartment for 21 long days….phew.
Possibly, that was a difficult night for everyone, for sure. I was restless too. Till I fell asleep, there was a continuous churning in my mind. I kept reassuring myself that there was adequate ration at home, enough cash, one LPG cylinder running in the kitchen and one kept in reserve, long enough to last for more than 21 days, and medicines etc.
The next day – the first day of a nationwide lockdown in India - was quite unusual – there was not much activity outside, vehicles were off the roads, trains were halted, streets were empty, the city looked quiet, and the entire nation had virtually come to a standstill. As if the time had literally stopped.
As the day progressed, news channels showed visuals showing policemen strictly enforcing the lockdown, and the confusion and the widespread chaos which the restrictions regarding the lockdown had created across the length and breadth of the nation.
Slowly days and months passed, the government issued a slew of measures, new restrictions, SoPs with greater emphasis on social distancing and use of masks – all aimed at breaking the chain of COVID-19 infections and preventing more fatalities.
Work from home, digital payments and online learning for kids had become a new culture by then and we all had learned to embrace this ‘new normal’ effected by the pandemic.
Though India, as compared to other nations, has done fairly well so far considering its 1.3 billion-plus population, and the government’s response and its handling of the COVID-19 crisis has earned global praise, it has also failed to assess the true consequences of ‘cruel and heartless’ implementation of the lockdown on the majority of Indians, especially the poor who have paid a huge price.
The lockdown and other preventive steps taken by the government were imperative, but they were not effective and enough to end the coronavirus crisis, which is evident from the fact that there have been at least 11,514,300 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in India as of March 20, 2021.
According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, at least 159,370 Indians have lost their lives due to the virus till this date.
Despite the mass vaccination drive – the largest in the world - started by the government, a lot still needs to be done. The global battle against the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over and the virus appears to be making a comeback in one form or the other despite several bold preventive measures taken by the governments.
The frequent announcement of night curfews and lockdowns in some states, the closure of schools and colleges, shopping malls, cinema halls and public spots one by one further indicates that a third wave of the coronavirus has begun into the country.
Though several vaccines, including the two developed at home, have given a new hope that this major health emergency will end soon, a holistic approach towards tackling the COVID-19 crisis is needed.
While the government needs to be more resilient to deal with the pandemic, it must also address those circumstances and factors that can render a certain section of the population most vulnerable. As individuals, we need to understand that the only we can protect ourselves from falling prey to the virus and the fight against coronavirus is not the government’s sole responsibility. It’s humanity’s collective fight against the deadly virus.