View From The Neighbourhood: COVID-19 lessons

coronavirus cases, COVID-19 pandemic, narendra modi, Saarc countries, indian express news

Given the overlaps on various fronts between the countries — social, economic, demographic and in terms of infrastructure — the lessons from each may well serve all of South Asia. (File/Representational Image)

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to uniformity in the concerns of people — and by extension the media — across the Subcontinent. Given the overlaps on various fronts between the countries — social, economic, demographic and in terms of infrastructure — the lessons from each may well serve all of South Asia.

Last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s video conference call with the leaders of SAARC nations was broadly well-received, though it hardly received any coverage. Dawn’s editorial on March 17 only mentions the meeting in passing, saying only that. “A common enemy presents a window of opportunity for all countries at odds to put aside their differences — at least, for the time being — and take on the virus on a war footing”.

On March 20, the newspaper was far grimmer. On Wednesday, Pakistan recorded two deaths from the virus and “contrary to what appears to be the general pattern of fatalities worldwide, the individuals were well under 60 years of age”. In addition, according to Dawn, the country has “entered the next stage of this pandemic when the first case of community transmission was confirmed in Karachi. That number is bound to rise, perhaps exponentially, with each passing day.” The editorial calls for political unity and honest assessments actions, not platitudes, by those at the top — a lesson for many in the Subcontinent. Also, while acknowledging the hardships that COVID-19 prevention may lead to, it seems to recognise their necessity: “Rapid transmission of COVID-19 has been checked in China and South Korea through lockdowns. Such a drastic step, given the realities of Pakistan, would cause untold misery to the multitudes that survive on daily wages or those with small businesses dependent on a steady income to make ends meet. However, there may come a point when the government decides it has no choice but to impose such a lockdown at least in some parts of the country.”

Quarantine woes

An article by Nahela Nowshin in The Daily Star on March 22 takes a realistic, if disturbing, look at whether quarantines can be effectively implemented in Bangladesh. Her arguments hold true for many of the country’s neighbours, especially India. While Bangladesh frequently faces calamities —”natural disasters, mosquitoes, onion prices, you name it” — the coronavirus is a completely new phenomenon. The term “quarantine” is alien to most Bangladeshis and if and when the disease progresses, isolating large swathes of the population may become impossible for a variety of reasons.

First, “the option of home quarantine is itself a luxury for most. Think of the farmers, the part-time housemaids, the rickshaw-pullers, the roadside tea stall owners”. Second, “has anyone at the policy level thought about what home quarantine would look like for slum-dwellers, who make up around 40 per cent of Dhaka’s population?” And third, “The element of “self-enforcement” in “home quarantines” can be misleading, ineffective and even dangerous, when we are dealing with a population that severely lacks health literacy and has a general neglect for wellbeing and personal hygiene”.

The article ends by saying: “If there is one thing that the coronavirus pandemic has made clear, it is that there are countless complexities in containing infectious diseases in populations. It, once again, goes to show why people-centred development — investing in quality education and health and closing the gap between the rich and poor — is crucial for the prevention of public health catastrophes.”

Rumours from India

Deepak Thapa, writing in The Kathmandu Post on March 20, begins his article on an optimistic note: “With only one confirmed case of infection [in Nepal] more than two months ago and when even that sees a complete recovery, the only conclusion we can come to is we have been extremely lucky — so far at least.”

However, Nepal is having to deal with many rumours being spread about the pandemic on social media, and Thapa seems to hold a certain type of thinking emanating from India at least partially responsible for the trend. He cites some of the ridiculous “myths” WHO has had to bust recently but cautions that the “WHO is no match” for what’s been coming out of social media. The article adds: “What is alarming though is that the WHO did not care to include among the ‘myths’ the supposedly magical properties of cow urine and dung that very influential people in India are peddling. It is a wonder that anyone pays heed to rants by charlatans that even promise to ‘kill the novel coronavirus and end its effects on the world’ through the performance of a yagya, as the current president of the Hindu Mahasabha announced more than a month ago (but has not got around to yet).”

Thapa is particularly upset by, understandably, dangerous nonsense being circulated, such as cow urine being able to heal COVID-19 or providing protection against it. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to uniformity in the concerns of people — and by extension the media — across the Subcontinent. Given the overlaps on various fronts between the countries — social, economic, demographic and in terms of infrastructure — the lessons from each may well serve all of South Asia

Last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s video conference call with the leaders of SAARC nations was broadly well-received, though it hardly received any coverage. Dawn’s editorial on March 17 only mentions the meeting in passing, saying only that. “A common enemy presents a window of opportunity for all countries at odds to put aside their differences — at least, for the time being — and take on the virus on a war footing”.

On March 20, the newspaper was far grimmer. On Wednesday, Pakistan recorded two deaths from the virus and “contrary to what appears to be the general pattern of fatalities worldwide, the individuals were well under 60 years of age”. In addition, according to Dawn, the country has “entered the next stage of this pandemic when the first case of community transmission was confirmed in Karachi. That number is bound to rise, perhaps exponentially, with each passing day.” The editorial calls for political unity and honest assessments actions, not platitudes, by those at the top — a lesson for many in the Subcontinent. Also, while acknowledging the hardships that COVID-19 prevention may lead to, it seems to recognise their necessity: “Rapid transmission of COVID-19 has been checked in China and South Korea through lockdowns. Such a drastic step, given the realities of Pakistan, would cause untold misery to the multitudes that survive on daily wages or those with small businesses dependent on a steady income to make ends meet. However, there may come a point when the government decides it has no choice but to impose such a lockdown at least in some parts of the country."

Curated by Aakash Joshi