John F. Kennedy, who in his brief time as the elected occupant of the White House transformed politics in the United States, said that the only thing that people needed to fear was fear itself. That was so correct. Fear has such a paralysing impact on people that defensive responses get affected. The WHO began to issue warning after warning about SARS CoV-2 towards February 2020, perhaps seeking to overcome the legacy of the manner in which the institution had ignored the severity of the disease from the time that it erupted into public view. Television media immediately acted on the cue they had been given, that this was an ailment that was worse than HIV, smallpox, meningitis and cholera combined. In reality, while each of the other diseases killed a far higher proportion of victims than SARS CoV-2 (the fatality rate of AIDS being 100%), the fear of what was named Covid-19 by the WHO spread faster than the virus. On television, images of those in their final moments of existence were shown to audiences repeatedly. Fast forward to 2021 and nothing seems to have changed. The screens at home are dominated by the novel coronavirus, with the latest being from a member of NITI Aayog, that face masks need to be worn even inside the house, perhaps even when an individual is asleep. Once again there are lockdowns, although not of the all-encompassing nature of the pair of lockdowns that were imposed when the pandemic that was sent by air from Wuhan first made its appearance in India. The damage to businesses is too large to be accurately determined. Hundreds of thousands of small establishments have been shut down, at first temporarily and thereafter permanently. Millions of lives have been lost to the pandemic and every day that unhappy count is rising. As for the WHO, that organisation had teams in Wuhan, as did agencies in the US that had provided lavish funding to the Institute of Virology in Wuhan for decades. Neither seems to have noticed anything wrong, even when heroes such as whistleblower Dr Liang talked about the danger that SARS CoV-2 posed. Instead of listening to him, the authorities shut him up and after that locked him up until he passed away, on the record from Covid-19. More than a year later, the WHO sent a team to Wuhan in which the lead member was the same individual who was responsible for funnelling millions of dollars of US taxpayer cash to the institute researching the virus to increase its potency even more than it was. No serious effort seems to have been made by the White House to bring to account those in the US and elsewhere who funded such research, while the WHO was clear that the institute the expert on its enquiry committee helped to fund was innocent of unleashing the novel coronavirus that it had been researching for close to six years.
Complacency and lack of adequate preparation for the second phase of the pandemic by the authorities led to India being declared off limits by countries across the world. Thanks to the vaccine diplomacy initiated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and implemented by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, India was a glowing beam of light in a dark world. That beam was allowed by carelessness to fade into what is being witnessed for the past weeks. Life has turned into hell for many who have lost their family members and their money to the pandemic. Prime Minister Modi needs to step in and bring in a scheme to reimburse those who have suffered the most. They are victims of war and need to be treated with similar consideration. In the meantime, the rest of the population needs to obey Covid-19 protocols. Maintain social distancing and do not rush into crowds. Wear masks when meeting other people. Wash hands every now and then and avoid contagion. Above all, wherever possible, get vaccinated. This newspaper agrees with the Prime Minister that India should never walk away from its moral responsibility towards countries less fortunate. Contracts for the supply of drugs to external buyers should be honoured, as also vaccine deliveries that have been made part of contracts entered into by large vaccine manufacturers in India. They need to be ensured low cost credit and tax breaks so that production can expand. New entrants should be encouraged, once their products are found to be of global standards. India has become the pharma hub of the world. The country can become with equal felicity the vaccine hub of the world. What is being witnessed today is likely to change within months, if not weeks, thanks to the Prime Minister taking personal command of the situation, moving away from the focus on state elections that had consumed so much time and attention of those at the top of the BJP government. If only the progress that has been made in the past few weeks at the Prime Minister’s prodding had been seen at the very start of the travail this country has endured because of the pandemic imported from Wuhan. Better late than never. What is needed is to ensure that the needy who are looking at financial and personal ruin because of the pandemic be rescued from their plight. Domestic production of the items necessary to defeat the wave of infections needs to be increased in a manner that the country has shown it is capable of. Freedom from fear is the first step towards resuming the march towards a bright future for the 1.3 billion citizens of the world’s largest democracy.