The numbers have finally begun to come down. Just as residents of Chennai had assumed that the daily COVID-19 figures would forever hover around the high 900s or low 1000s, the virus has shown signs of relenting. The statistics have taken a turn for the better, with the city registering around 750 numbers each day. The number of containment zones is less than 20. All of these are something to rejoice about. Unfortunately for us, many in the city have begun to assume that the pandemic belongs to the past.
That this is a very foolish notion will be made amply evident when we consider what is happening in Europe and in several parts of the USA – the numbers are climbing once again. All of these nations had experienced a peak, then a dip, and when the situation appeared to be improving, the pandemic chose to return. It would also be wrong to blindly believe pronouncements such as those made by the Finance Ministry, which declared that the COVID peak had passed. That was meant from an economic point of view – with factories, commercial establishments and shops opening up, business would look up anyway. It certainly cannot be interpreted to mean that the pandemic has gone. Similarly, while it is good to be optimistic about a vaccine, we cannot forget that as of now there is no such preventive intervention. True, Russia did make an announcement to this effect, as did China, but these are countries whose credibility is low at best. India too is in the race for developing a vaccine and the signs are hopeful,but it is still early days.
Which is why it comes as a surprise that residents of Chennai have chosen to throw caution to the winds and throng shops, ostensibly as a prelude to Dipavali. Of course, on the one hand it is understandable – prolonged lockdowns have failed the world over and have at best delayed the spread of the epidemic. And not everybody lives in palatial accommodation to opt for remaining locked up forever. However, a people fed up of remaining indoors would it would logically be expected, throng the open spaces. Our Government has of course strangely enough, preferred to keep beaches and parks out of bounds indefinitely. And so, the people throng shopping complexes, than which there can be no worse option – an enclosed environment with several people in proximity has all the makings of a super spreader.
Last fortnight, despite repeated warnings, shops and establishments in T Nagar in particular, witnessed record crowds. The police had to finally step in and seal one outlet. That has served as a deterrent. It is understood that the others, still open, have agreed to a token system to allow entry. But that does not in any way control those waiting outside, and they can cause as much risk as those allowed in. All of this is at a time when suburban trains are yet to operate. If and when they do, the crowds can double and push up the risk manifold.
Which brings us to our lead question. Are we that uncaring a society that when thousands have perished and several others have lost their livelihood, we see it fit to celebrate, complete with the purchase of new clothes? Of course, some may argue that this is one way of boosting the economy. But at what cost? What if a fresh round of the pandemic breaks out as a consequence? Let us learn to be responsible citizens. Dipavaliwill come again next year. It is important that we should be around to celebrate it, in a disease-free environment.