The outbreak of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) has meant that society has to redefine the fundamental principles which have governed it. India introduced travel restrictions and social distancing measures to ensure that the disease was restricted to those with travel history and their immediate contacts. But the country is now at a crossroads, with a spike in the number of positive Covid-19 cases. Looming ahead is a phase that experts have been warning about: Stage 3, which is community transmission. This occurs when a person with no travel history to an affected country or direct contact with a confirmed case tests positive for Covid-19. It is an indication that the undiagnosed and likely asymptomatic carriers are spreading it, and makes breaking the chain of transmission increasingly tough.
As India approaches this stage, expect a rapid spike in cases, an increase in fatalities, and a corresponding set of hard measures. Travel restrictions have already got extended, with the suspension of passenger train operations, inter-state buses, and metro services till March 31. Various states have imposed Section 144, which restricts gatherings of more than five people. There is a lockdown in 75 affected districts. Other consequences will follow. From India restricting international flights, the rest of the world will get wary of allowing flights from India. There will be more extended periods of the people’s curfew. If self-quarantine measures are not implemented, legal consequences may follow. Economic activity will get even more adversely affected, hitting the poorest the hardest. And the burden on the health system will increase.
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This is not meant to induce panic. But it is meant to prepare citizens for what lies ahead. Stage 3 will require citizens to exercise a greater degree of responsibility. Social distancing will have to be accompanied by social solidarity and care for the more vulnerable sections. Employers will need to be even more sensitive towards their staff. Patients will need empathy, not stigmatisation. And the government, even as it is held accountable, will need support, as it introduces more measures to both battle the virus and introduce measures to minimise the distress. Things may get worse before they get better. India must stay united.