At the time of writing this piece, Delhi has a positivity rate of approximately 0.1%. Its neighbouring states of Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Punjab have recorded a similar, low rate. It looks like we are in the pink for now, although the clouds of an inevitable third wave continue to lurk, as pointed out by numerous experts.
The second wave was fatal, clocking a rate of 20-30% in the aforementioned states. This was attributed to laxity by citizens, owing to the festive season (Holi), Kumbh Mela, election rallies, along with a continued streak of Covid-19 inappropriate behaviour.
The second wave made the infection extremely personal. We now know many people in our social circles who were affected by it. While we saw efforts by many community groups and NGOs, who came together to collect resources for the needy, via WhatsApp groups, chatbots, websites etc., there were many others who took unethical, economic advantage of the situation.
For instance, important drugs were immediately black-marketed and made available at sky-rocketed prices. Ambulances charged a bomb for just a few kilometres. Oxygen vendors too were charging exorbitant prices and often cancelling orders for better deals. It was pandemonium for a period of two weeks in many Indian states.
Soon after, when the second wave declined around mid-May, Delhi and many other neighbouring states began easing restrictions. While the capital saw good air quality during most of its lockdown weeks, traffic on roads returned to the usual as we entered the month of June.
People were on the roads, but this time, they seemed to be taking the virus more seriously. Faces were properly covered with masks that did not rest on their chins. Many other conscious citizens subscribed to double masking as prescribed by the government. It was clear that the capital’s wounds were gradually healing up.
It was encouraging to see that the wave was declining as rapidly as it took off, throughout the months of March to June. The problem started when Delhi’s neighbouring states relaxed entry such that people didn’t need a negative Covid-19 RTPCR test.
The more popular state of Himachal Pradesh (HP) took a massive economic hit due to the pandemic, considering that a large proportion of its revenue comes from tourism. It saw literally thousands of Delhiites thronging to it the very next weekend.
Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, home to popular hill stations, did not expect such a landslide of tourists in such a short span of time. The internet was bustling with phrases like “Delhiites went from finding no beds in hospitals to no beds in hotels.”
While in principle, such an act of resilience is encouraging in that people are getting back to life, but equally worrying when you see pictures of 500 unmasked tourists at a famous waterfall in Uttarakhand. Should we blame the citizens or the administration in such a situation?
It is here that we must look at this as a policy oversight. The government at a given level exercises its control through policy instruments such as carrots, sticks or sermons. While the administration is continuously advocating for Covid-19 appropriate behaviour (sermons), not everyone takes it seriously as it’s not compulsory.
Although there is a penalty or fine (stick) for Covid-19 inappropriate behaviour, it is not very practical to collect fines from countless people. A few thousand fines are charged every day, but this accounts for only a small proportion of violators. If they are not following the rules, they have already done the damage.
Putting the onus on regular people is not wise from a government standpoint, considering the latter is ultimately responsible for public welfare. What then, should these states have done?
While it is easy to call out the administration in such times, it is also the responsibility of the citizen to follow appropriate norms, given that many population groups in north India have suffered a serious impact of the virus.
Non-compliance not only makes the possibility of the third wave a reality, but also reflects poorly on the national character of how we, as citizens, respect government measures.