Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s primetime address on Thursday aimed to bring the country on the same page about the Covid-19 threat. This is an urgent task. As India’s confirmed Covid-19 cases cross 200 the sense of urgency remains missing in large parts – whether citizens or governments. For this number is nothing compared to countries that are in serious lockdown now. But epidemic progression there serves us clear warning. Consider how cases shot up exponentially in Italy, from around 20 to over 40,000 in the past month. With far poorer health infrastructure and many times the population, complacency will literally kill many of us.
The PM can distill a lot of complex information into effective mass communication. This is also important to battle the dangerous misinformation overload, including his junior health minister Ashwini Choubey suggesting that 15 minutes in the sun can kill coronavirus. But beyond this, our big diverse democracy cannot achieve social distancing by fiat. So persuade rather than pressgang. As a kind of practice drill for broad lockdowns the PM has asked people to observe a ‘janata curfew’ this Sunday, which will also be about showing gratitude to the essential service workers who don’t get to stay at home in an emergency – like doctors, nurses, police personnel and mediapersons.
The question is how the Indian masses who eke out their living day to day, will tide through such curfews. Even the better off will reel from the economic fallout. Other countries have already announced robust fiscal responses. Kerala’s expansive economic package extends from clearing various government dues to advancing welfare pensions. On this front, the Centre has fallen behind. After having laid out what citizens should do, in the coming days the PM must also elaborate what the government will do for them.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.