Days before the start of an extended festival season, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday warned citizens that the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) was still active and present in India, there was no vaccine yet, and citizens would be putting their own lives and those of their family members at risk if they were irresponsible about safety measures such as social distancing norms and wearing masks.
Modi, in an address to the nation, stressed that there was tremendous work being done — on a war footing, both globally and in India — to develop vaccines, some of which were in the advanced stages of trial. “The government is working on a plan to ensure that vaccines reach all citizens,” he said.
“But till there is no medicine,” he cautioned, “don’t let your guard down.”
The Prime Minister offered global examples — from the US and European countries — to suggest that any laxity could lead to a spike in infections. He also gave Indian examples, citing recent videos and photographs, to suggest that there was a pattern of growing carelessness and Covid-19 fatigue at home.
He asked citizens to spread awareness about the risks of the disease as an act of national service.
“This is not the time for carelessness. It is not the time to think that Covid-19 has gone or that there is no danger from Covid-19. We have seen videos and photographs in recent days where it is clear that people are either not following precautions or have been complacent. If you are being careless and are going out without a mask, you are putting yourself, your families, your elders and your children at risk,” he said.
The PM’s remarks – in a 12-minute speech that served as an advisory and appeal, rather than one that made announcements about measures or guideline – come days before the Vijayadashami festival, which often sees large congregations at pandals, especially in West Bengal. It also comes before other festivals such as Dussehra, Eid, Chatth, and Diwali, many of which are public festivals. The onset of this period has brought forth tension between public health imperatives (which stipulate distancing) on one side; and religious traditions (where the expression of faith is often public), and economic considerations (this is a season which witnesses higher consumer spending) on the other.
Weighing in favour of public health needs, but with some degree of festivity and economic activity, the PM said: “From the Janata curfew (March 22) to now, Indians have traversed a long journey. With time, economic activity has also slowly picked up. A majority of us are coming out of our homes. There is activity in the markets too. But we must not forget that even if the lockdown has gone, the virus hasn’t gone yet.”
Saying that India had achieved relative success in the battle against Covid-19, Modi said that there was a “controlled situation” at the moment, but this must not worsen, and instead the effort must be to build on it. He cited data — 5,500 cases and 83 deaths per million in India against close to 2,500 cases and 600 deaths per million in countries such as the United States and Brazil — to stress that India has both a high recovery rate and low fatality rate. India also, he said, now, had nine million beds for Covid-19 patients, 12,000 quarantine centres, and 2,000 labs; and is close to completing 100 million tests.
India has 7.65 million Covid-19 cases – the second highest in the world after the US, but its fatality rate of 1.5% is significantly better than most severely hit countries as well as the global average of 2.8%.
The PM pointed to the US and Europe, and said that after a dip in cases, there was a “worrying spike” in cases in these geographies again, and said that until there was a vaccine, there must not be any weakness in the battle against Covid-19.
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The Congress said that that the Prime Minister should come out with concrete solutions to control the Covid-19 pandemic and revive the economy instead of giving “plain speeches”. After the PM’s address, Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said that the Modi government has “failed” on both the fronts and India has become the “Corona capital” of the world with the “highest” number of daily cases and deaths. “It is easy to give sermons. The country does not need plain speeches but concrete solutions,” he said in a tweet, quoting a phrase from saint Tulsidas.
Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said: “Addressing the nation for the seventh time since the imposition of the lockdown PM Modi brushed aside all shortcomings in the tackling of the pandemic claiming the governments handling as a success.”
“It is a very good thing that the Prime Minister raised the issue of the festival celebrations… even if festivals have to be celebrated, people should do so with their families within their homes rather than going out shopping or to crowded places,” said Dr Jugal Kishore, head of the department of community medicine at Safdarjung Hospital.
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