We Can’t Even Stand in a Queue How Long Did You Think We’d Follow Covid Protocol?

Social Commentary

We Can’t Even Stand in a Queue How Long Did You Think We’d Follow Covid Protocol?

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

So here we are again. It’s April, a year on from the last time we were standing in front of our windows staring at thin air wondering when it would all come to an end. In many ways, it did and it didn’t. What hasn’t at least come to end is the pandemic, with a second significant wave now threatening to overwhelm the country. What has indeed come to an end is the caution we all exercised and the discipline that became the main reason behind the decline of cases after a cruel few months last year. Not much has changed, and yet so much is intrinsically different. This isn’t a second wave of cases, it’s a first big wave of COVID-19 denial. And this one might hurt more because we can seemingly neither be taught, nor intimidated into listening to the sage advice of those who speak in our interest.

This déjà vu, I have a feeling, will leave a bad taste in the mouth. The doubling rate of cases in India is more than it has ever been. We have now reported the highest single day numbers anywhere in the history of the pandemic with 1,03,558 new cases reported on Monday. Mumbai has started echoing the desperate stories of last year where the infrastructure had stuttered to the brink of collapse. A one-month lockdown has been imposed and migrant workers have started their journey back home. Things aren’t any better in Delhi NCR either, fresh from a pandemic-ignorant week full of Holi celebrations and weekend shenanigans. Today, a night curfew has been imposed but a lockdown seems imminent. The cold hard fact is that the situation may only get worse, not because we have suddenly become more susceptible to an old virus and its mutations but because we have become complacent, but mostly just careless.

Indians are typically science agnostic. They might believe in the wonders of science but they refuse to absorb its more salient, everyday teachings. Maintaining cleanliness, social distancing used to be considered elite activities and despite the pandemic’s forewarning not much has changed in the way people continue to deny its implications. There are several reasons why this second wave may prove to be wider and more lethal than the first one. Most of it has to do with Indian behavioural impulses rather than those of the virus. Firstly, the tiresome journey of the pandemic thus far has corroded all the discipline that it took an enormous amount of virtue signalling by the government to inculcate. Indians haven’t been able to stand in a queue for the longest of time and it makes sense that pandemic-taught etiquette would soon wear off. It’s not even a literacy thing, the educated and the rich are in on it equally, if not more.

Secondly, foolish luck emboldens the gullible and the ill-advised. Most of us who didn’t contract the virus over the last year, may have cultivated a God complex by now that we may in fact have been immune to it all along. Stupidity can only be egged on the by happy coincidences and most of us who took risks over the course of pandemic and remained unscathed because of dumb luck are likely to feel vindicated. The fact that people have also been vaccinated has instilled this sense of a rescue act under way away from the naked eye. The third reason and perhaps the one that you can empathise with to some extent is the sheer desperation among people to return to normalcy of some kind. We have all spent an unprecedented year and for most of us, a return to simpler times has become both a mental and physical necessity. To majority of India, it’s also a case of financial necessities, people who simply cannot miss another payday or they would die of hunger faster than they’d die of a virus.

The government’s messaging on the pandemic hasn’t brought any clarity either. We are imposing night curfews and weekend lockdowns in some states, while in others we are holding election rallies where Covid protocol seems like a joke. Restrictions seem more whimsical than they seem carefully selected, while there is no consensus on drawing the line between essential and non-essential. It’s all confusing and you can kind of understand if people have stopped trying to make sense of the collage. It’s safe to say not many can afford another national lockdown. The loss, the anger this time around, would be irrepressible. For that you cannot begrudge the daily wager trying to make his or living. But the irresponsible adults who continue to plan vacations, host parties and travel needlessly, could at least pause and smell the second coming of a moment we are all too painfully familiar with. This brazen disregard for collective health suggests our assumptions about the pandemic having ended were indeed premature. What ended instead was our capability to think and act justifiably. It may already be too late to save the day given no amount of social tracing will be able to track the virus which has this time round spawned and spread from within our neighbourhoods. There are no foreign imports or alien culinary traditions to blame this time round. It’s us, the typically heedless Indian who will no longer take warnings about an impending crisis, lying down.