Sandeep Sahu

No one wants it. Not the Centre, not the state and certainly not the public. But the way the Covid graph has skyrocketed over the last four weeks, the state government may be left with little option but to resort to a prolonged spell of lockdown in a few days’ time, whether anyone wants it or not.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has appealed to states to resort to lockdown only as a last resort and focus on localised containment zones instead. On his part, Chief minister Naveen Patnaik has repeatedly appealed to the people to strictly follow the Covid protocol so as to prevent the return of lockdown. But neither the CM’s appeal nor the dire warnings of health experts appear to have had much of an impact on the people, for whom it appears to be business as usual. Many people still don’t wear masks. And a majority of those who do have their masks dangling from the chin instead of covering the nose as it should.

By now, it is abundantly clear that the ongoing ‘second wave’ is spreading much faster and is far more lethal than the one last year. Last year’s peak of 4330, recorded on September 26, has already been crossed. The state Health department’s calculation of a ‘plateau’, clearly based on the number of fresh cases staying in the 6,000-7,000 range for five days, was hit for a six twice in the next three days. On Wednesday, a day after the DMET made the claim, the state reported no less than 8,386 new cases. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Friday saw a new record with 8,681 new cases with the highest single-day toll of 14. And to think we are still some distance away from this year’s peak, which could see the daily caseload breach the 10000, 15000, maybe even 20,000 in the next couple of weeks if the dire warnings of doctors and health experts outside the government are anything to go by.

As the daily caseload goes through the roof, doctors keep advising people to stay put at home and not to venture out unless it is absolutely necessary. But watching the crowds on the streets and in the marketplaces, it doesn’t seem all of them are out on urgent business. No matter where you go, ‘Social distancing’ appears to be an unheard-of concept, notwithstanding the fact that doctors and government officials have been harping on it day in and day out. Even at a time as critical as this, there are those who cannot do without their evening khati!

There could be several reasons for this public apathy to ‘Covid appropriate behaviour’. It is possible after living with severe restrictions for the better part of last year, people have developed some kind of a ‘restriction fatigue’ and are now in no mood to go back into their cells again. The views of some experts that while the virus is spreading much faster this time round, its lethal potential is substantially lower in the second wave, a prognosis that has already been proved wrong. Compulsions of earning a livelihood have also forced many people, still trying to recover from the loss of income for months together, to go out. The availability of the vaccine may also have played a role in the people developing a sense of complacency.

Whatever the reason, there is little doubt that this complacency could cost us dear in terms of lives and stretch our rickety healthcare infrastructure even further. DGP Abhay revealed yesterday that fine worth over Rs 5 crore have been collected from people violating Covid restrictions in April alone. There is little doubt that the amount of fines collected would have been at least 10 times higher than it is if everyone violating the rules had been fined. It is clear that for every person who is hauled up by the cops, there are 10 who get scot-free because there are simply not enough policemen to check every single violation everywhere in the state. And that, in turn, increases the complacency among the people and makes them think they can get away with violating the norms with impunity.

If this attitude persists, a lockdown may not be far away; and in a much more stringent form than we have seen so far. A weeklong lockdown now looks a distinct possibility, at least in the twin cities of Bhubaneswar and Cuttack and some of the high incidence districts bordering Chhattisgarh, if not the whole state. And that, it goes without saying, will be a real tragedy – for everyone, including those who obey the rules!

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)

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