Step up: On citizens’ responsibility during a pandemic

Citizens must not hide their travel or contact history as authorities deal with the pandemic

Updated - April 01, 2020 01:33 am IST

Published - April 01, 2020 12:02 am IST

With any big crisis comes great responsibility. In this time of a pandemic , while there is extensive, proven value in adopting recommended personal hygiene standards, maintaining physical distance, and demanding the States and Centre provide adequate facilities for testing and treatment for the ill, it is also essential to leave that word on the top of the pile — Responsibility. Every public health emergency requires community recognition that this is an extraordinary set of circumstances requiring far-from-ordinary responses. A reasonable restriction on citizens’ rights may come into play on invoking provisions of the Epidemic Diseases Act. State police are already slapping cases on violators of the lockdown conditions; action is also being taken on those who violate quarantine. However, the strongest weapon that one can unleash against this pandemic is with every individual. The time to say this nicely is over. It is time to insist that every individual respond responsibly during this time: To inform authorities of relevant history of travel, stay in quarantine even if asymptomatic, follow all other protocols. Keeping health authorities in the loop could make the difference between life and death.

Individuals volunteering information will help the Central and State governments narrow down on the cluster cases centred around the Tablighi Jamaat conference in Nizamuddin, Delhi. The spread of cases from this one spot, which reportedly had several foreign nationals who later tested positive, and where six among those who attended died, has emerged as a key milestone in India’s management of the epidemic. The conference was held on March 13, more than a week before the Sunday lockdown . Since then, people from the conference moved on, back home, and several, including Indonesian nationals who were present at Nizamuddin, have tested positive. While the State has deployed ‘hotspot’ containment strategies in ground zero in Delhi, it is the people who have spread out in the community that are absolutely crucial, over the next few days, to shaping one stretch of the course of the epidemic in India. While it is a massive exercise to track down all the attendees (it is now believed that thousands of people were present) and each of their contacts, it must still be done. Some States have already expressed being thwarted, without co-operation from the participants, and their close contacts. Unfortunately, this may leave the job half done, or undone, leading to disastrous consequences. It is indeed a Herculean task, and may even be considered impossible, unless those who went for the meeting in Delhi step up themselves, engage with health authorities, submit themselves to a test, and remain under quarantine for the prescribed period. Humanitarian crises such as pandemics invoke the worst among men and women, but also their best. The latter is eminently possible, as long as people believe that the enemy is the pandemic, and act responsibly.

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