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Lockdowns, ‘Covidiots’ and ‘Responsible’ Citizens

A study by the Pew Research Center states that around 75 million more people in India fell into poverty last year because of lockdowns compared with what it would have been without the outbreak.

We all know of the recent surge in COVID cases all over India, but the simultaneous surge in ‘responsible’ citizens appalled by the irresponsibility of ‘Covidiots’ has been grossly underreported.

The ‘responsible’ citizens loathe ‘Covidiots’ for thronging to bus stops, train stations, markets, and beaches. They are dismayed that ‘Covidiot’ shopkeepers continue to operate allowing subordinates to crowd inside and customers to the crowd outside their establishments. They despise ‘Covidiots’ for wearing their mask on their necks. They see ‘Covidiots’ gather socially and their skin crawls. They notice ‘lowly-paid Covidiots’ queue outside liquor shops and their blood boil. 

The myriad instances of abject negligence almost cause ‘responsible’ citizens to self-combust with rage. They persistently post pictures of the infractions tagging relevant authorities and pray for stricter lockdowns.

These ‘responsible’ citizens then proceed to laud their own supreme sacrifices. They boast about abstaining from parties, cinemas, restaurants, vacations, and birthday celebrations. They vaunt about masking up when outdoors. They extol their commitment to work from home despite feeling ‘suffocated’. They assert that if ‘Covidiots’ just followed them, there wouldn’t be a second wave.

So why are these ‘Covidiots’ devoid of the human instinct of self-preservation such that they refuse to follow Covid restrictions?

Some ‘Covidiots’ live in cramped accommodations along with family members. Staying indoors means breathe each other’s exhalations and germs while hearing their neighbours cough. They step out and can virtually touch their neighbour. 

Crowding and queuing is the only way to function, be it for water, rationing, toilet breaks, trains or buses during their commute to work. They are compelled to be inches away from their colleagues at their place of work. Social distancing is not practical.

For ‘Covidiots’ such as labourers or home delivery personnel, continuously wearing their masks is uncomfortable because heavy breathing owing to physical exhaustion.

Some ‘Covidiots’ have no facility of paid leaves or the luxury of working from home, other work in sectors that have been hit due to the lockdowns and fear losing their jobs. 

There are ‘Covidiots’ who have bought a new apartment or a new vehicle, they fear redundancy and being unable to pay their EMIs.

‘Covidiots’ who run small businesses have seen their profits dwindle considerably while wages, bills, rent, and taxes remain constant. Those deemed ‘non-essential’ have suffered the most. For manufacturing units, a certain volume of output is essential for the operation to remain profitable. The cost of real estate prevents them from opting for a more spacious work area and reducing the workforce for social distancing is not sustainable.

Big businesses too have seen the operations hampered and sales dropping. They may be able to sustain for a longer period of time, but with cost cuts, which means layoffs and pay cuts. The victims again are ‘Covidiots’. 

There are ‘Covidiot’ students who cannot afford private tutors and rely solely on the schools for their education, their learning has come to a halt due to school closure. 

There are ‘Covidiots’ with serious ailments unable to receive treatment because their hospitals have been turned exclusively into Covid centres.

Some ‘Covidiots’ have been indoors for months devoid of much human contact at all.

There are ‘Covidiots’ from all walks of life and economic backgrounds. Stepping out for a stroll, or gather socially over drinks or playing cricket or a visit to the beach is their only means of relief.

And who are these ‘responsible’ citizens?

They have work-from-home facilities, medical insurance, and a handsome bank balance. They receive their salaries and lockdown has no financial impact which gives them ample time to function as the custodians of societal morality. Often ‘Covidiots’ join this mob without realizing the consequences of their actions.

In the past few weeks, we have seen politicians, who have been architects of lockdowns and who blame the public solely for the second wave, hold campaign rallies and roadshows with dense crowds that seldom wear masks. The Election Commission has strict guidelines and punishment for Covid regulation violators, but are impotent when these enforcing rules against the powerful.

There are ‘farm protests’ where none of the Covid guidelines such as social distancing or wearing masks is followed while the state remains a passive spectator.

The instances are plenty of the powerful and connected doing as they please. We see them photographed in public without masks and in group hugs as they pose for photos at parties or luxury vacations.

There are the real Covidiots (no quotes) who may get called out on social media but there will be no punitive action.

But when it comes to ‘Covidiots’, the state is emboldened to ruthlessly apply the might of the law. A few days back a video depicting a man being brutalized by the police as his weeping son begged them to stop, received a lot of media attention. Here, the culprits were suspended, sadly a myriad other instance of excessive force by the state go unnoticed or unpunished. As always palms have to be greased to get even the most basic things done.

study by the Pew Research Center states that around 75 million more people in India fell into poverty last year because of lockdowns compared with what it would have been without the outbreak. 

There has also been a rise in school dropouts after the pandemic, which reduces the possibility of upward mobility.

These numbers are likely to increase as time goes by and is nothing short of a ticking time bomb. It will widen income inequality and cause a deeper societal divide. As people confront the possibility of financial ruin, indignity, hunger and hopelessness, they may surrender to their worst instincts.

The right of individuals to earn a living free from random or extreme government interference is a fundamental right. The state has no right to deem what is an essential service and what isn’t. If the state cannot provide an income it has no right to place impediments as individuals earns their livelihood to live with dignity.

The ‘responsible’ citizens relish posting photos of these ‘Covidiots’ violating rules and tag the relevant authorities. Do they realize that ‘Covidiots’ could either face arrest or are sent back to their congested dwellings? As have seen in the video, the interaction is usually hostile.

It is clear that lockdown, social distancing, mandatory shutting down of businesses are practical for a select few.

Most importantly the new wave of Covid cases proves that the lockdown is ineffective. Largely because it’s just not practical to relentlessly test, track, and segregate groups of healthy, covid positive and recovered on a regular basis in a populous and chaotic country such as India. The vaccine may help but it is by no means guaranteed protection against Covid.

In 2019, India recorded 24 lakh tuberculosis cases and over 79,000 deaths. The numbers translate into roughly 20,000 deaths per quarter. In comparison, Covid has killed around 15,000 people in India over the last three and a half months. Tuberculosis is also a disease that airborne and the recovery much longer than Covid. But we had no lockdowns back then.

The question remains are we going to enforce restrictions every time there is a hint of an outbreak and if we go down that route will we ever be able to open up completely?

For a disease such as Covid with the mortality rate and recovery rate, does it make sense to have all-pervasive lockdowns? The people may survive Covid but will be destroyed in every other way.

As President Trump observed, “The cure cannot be worse than the problem itself”. These are point for the powers that be to ponder as they contemplate stricter measures to combat Covid.  

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Rajan Laad
Rajan enjoys writing about politics, cinema, and current affairs. He tweets at @Sir_R_U_L

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