Following the news of a Covid-19 positive case originating from Dimapur and the reports in some local newspapers of health infrastructure in the State being grossly inadequate, the entire population seems to have come in the grip of a fear psychosis. “Lockdown” has become an all-too familiar chant as if keeping the people under complete lockdown indefinitely would somehow protect them from the virus for all time.
Sadly this is not the nature of a virus. The Little Oxford Dictionary describes a virus as “any of numerous kinds of very simple organisms smaller than bacteria, able to cause diseases”. Wikepedia says a virus is “a submicroscopic infectious agent that replicates only inside the living cells of an organism. Viruses can infect all types of life forms, from animals and plants to microorganisms, including bacteria and archaea”. Influenza is a common virus that keeps returning year after year, even to people who have already had the infection and overcome it once. Mumps, polio and HIV also fall in the category of viruses. Even Corona Virus has several other forms like SARS, MERS etc.
The Novel Corona Virus, named Covid-19 by the World Health Organization (WHO), seems to be a very virulent one, more so because it is new and has as yet no vaccine for its treatment. Officially accepted as originating in China’s Wuhan city, in November 2019, it has spread all over the world and become a worldwide pandemic.
Lockdown not a cure?
What does a lockdown do and what is its main purpose? A lockdown is what it says. Basically, it means preventing people from leaving their homes. In this case, it is a civil lockdown as opposed to one that is caused by disturbance or in order to maintain law and order. This is an extraordinary step meant only for short durations. The lockdown is meant to contain the virus and create space for the country to better prepare itself to face the virus — establish task force, health protocols, protective measures, infrastructure facilities etc. Such preparations make possible for health system to run smoothly and not get overwhelmed. Taiwan’s case, for instance, has been lauded the world over. It is imperative that a strategy should accompany the lockdown. The lockdown is not a panacea or miracle cure. The virus will not go away because of the lockdown; it can only delay at most.
As stated at the beginning, there is rampant fear psychosis throughout the State following the report of the first Covid-19 positive case. This has come in the wake of weeks and months of being fed with reports of frightening death rates from different parts of the world. This is not surprising given the backdrop of decades of violence and killings and people living in fear most/all of their lives. But fear will not mitigate our situation; it can only make things worse!
Many indications and reports have come out that Nagaland is not handling the situation well. That health infrastructure is inadequate is a given, with many projects that should have been completed long ago still years away from becoming functional. There have been reports that the protective gears supplied so far have been defective, and one can guess that even their numbers may be inadequate. This is an immediate area of need. Put some doctors on the purchase committee to correct this anomaly, in fact let doctors be in charge for all equipment purchases including medicines. Indeed, Covid-19 may give us an opportunity to rework the systems, or lack of them, we have been following till now!
But, at this juncture, the biggest need in the State is in the area of the mind! Ignorance is creating fear. According to Fair Observer, the biggest lesson from SARS epidemic is that full factual reports, both good and bad, should be given to the people so that people can trust their government and the systems at work. This is a great need now! The immediate reason for the fear psychosis is because the news of the first positive case came from Mr Himanta Biswa Sarma, Assam Health Minister, while the health authorities in Nagaland did not seem to even know about it. The rest of the damage was done by social media. If we win the fight in the minds of the people, half the battle will have been won!
I am putting forward a few suggestions to start with.
- There should be an authoritative medical paper on what is known about Covid-19, the pandemic, the nature of the virus, what are the best chances for overcoming it etc. In order to combat the virus, the people must be armed with the necessary knowledge. Fear will make us lose the fight! If serving doctors are too busy to work on such a paper, we have some who have retired or are less busy with the knowledge and intellectual capacity and their services could be sought.
- The facilities available and where should be made public along with contact numbers and persons in each facility. Where further facilities are being built, they should also be made public.
- The State’s strategy for combating the Covid-19 virus should be made known to the public. From such strategy will follow clear instructions and administrative guidelines. If the State machinery has inadequate human resources to deal with the present situation, there must be clear guidelines as to what kind of cooperation the Government requires from the people. We can do without subjecting the people to duality of orders, conflicting authorities or confusion of any kind. Instructions must be clearly streamlined and followed by everyone at every level.
- There should be a central authority for disseminating authentic reports of the latest situation in the State, actions being taken etc. Probably, an official team from the Health Department could give regular briefings to the media for dissemination to the public. If certain channels are used, these channels along with their timings should be made widely known. The example of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Daily Briefings could be emulated. If people have authentic news, this will defeat rumours and needless fears. Trust will develop between the health workers, the police and security, the administration and the public.
From all reports, it is likely that the fight against Covid-19 is going to be a marathon or at least a Middle Distance race and not a sprint. As is the nature of viruses, it is also likely that many or most of us are also likely to be infected by it before it runs its course. Even then, it is likely to come again and again in the future also. So, while we must all take all the necessary precautions, it may be futile, even self-defeating, to exhaust ourselves and others before the real race begins!
Nagaland is a young State. Our people are so diverse that even communication and real understanding are difficult sometimes. Most of us have just emerged from our community-based societies and living. There are many among us who belong to the first generation with some education. So, while we may be behind other people on so many fronts, we have also not done too badly and we can take some pride in the achievements we have made so far. But we need to be patient with one another and carry everyone along. We need to continue to build, not stop with the little successes we have managed to achieve here and there. We need to build institutions and functioning systems to take our people and society forward. One of them is the state machinery on which almost the entire population of Nagaland depend for their livelihood. Let us use it well for the benefit of all our people. Let us not disparage or drag it into the mud. This is for all – those who rule and those who are ruled.