India’s anti-corona armour: A five-fold framework

The number five holds tremendous significance is our heritage and way of life – be it in the five books of Psalms, the five pillars of Islam, the five precepts of Buddhism, the five-pointed star signet of Vishnu, Shiva’s Panchakshari mantraPanchami associated with Goddess Saraswati, the Panj Kakkar of Sikhism, the five elements of nature, the five human senses or even the five circles in the Olympics symbol.

Acknowledging its ubiquitous presence across aspects of human life, India has hammered together an armor of strategies in a five-fold framework, defining its battle against one of the largest (yet invisible) enemies threatening the very existence of mankind – the COVID 19.  The panchvrat siddhant (quintuplet principles) – of sankalp (commitment), soch (thought), samarthya (capability), sahyog (collaboration) and swarajya (self-rule) are the guiding principles, establishing India’s safalta (success) in the most monumental times of modern history.

Our deduction of success is based on India’s journey so far. As on writing this article, the world reported 16.14 lakh active coronavirus cases across 200+ countries and over 96,791 deaths.  An Eagle-Elephant comparison is proof of the latter’s might – India did get something right. USA, the world’s largest economy, home to less than 5 per cent of the world’s population accounts for about 28% of the total active corona cases and 16% of the total COVID-related deaths. Au contraire, India, home to 1/6th of humanity, has reported less than 0.5% of the total cases and 0.1 per cent of total deaths.

At a national level, India’s strategy against this pandemic, which garnered praise from the World Health Organization (WHO), has been superior to many countries including authoritarian China, procrastinating Italy, hesitant Spain and even dismissive United Kingdom. An Oxford study assessing government response to the pandemic has given India the maximum stringency score of 100 vs. much lower scores of 80.95, 71.43, 66.7 and 42.86 in Germany, United Kingdom, China and Singapore, respectively. A study of the report shows that countries which tried to save their economy suffered in terms of both lives and livelihood. In a vast country like India containing the virus and saving lives was critical. In fact, in this global fight against an unknown enemy, India is helping other countries wage their own battles by working in close coordination with SAARC nations, and providing hydrochloroquine to neighboring countries, Brazil and USA, after catering to its own domestic demand.

The first core principle of India’s strategy is sankalp, an unwavering resolve to protect and preserve the health of every individual. India was one of the first countries to deploy the most potent weapon in the war against the virus – a complete lockdown of the country. Piloted through a Janta Curfew by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and then scaled up to a 21-day lockdown, India’s measures were unprecedented. Never before has the world seen such a bold initiative – in a country with a scale, diverse landscape and demography like none other. To put things in perspective, India’s gutsy decision impacted a population larger than all 44 countries combined in the European continent. This has only been possible because of the immense ability of the Prime Minister to communicate directly with the people of India.

The complete lockdown was implemented to flatten the pandemic curve. Two of its features are noteworthy – its timing and its outcome. Calculating the time between the first reported case to a lockdown, India was ahead of China by around two weeks. India’s first recorded case was in the end of January and by the third week of March, India was in complete lockdown. In contrast, China recorded its first case of the virus in mid-November and announced a lockdown, for only 20 provinces, by the end of January. While countries like the United Kingdom and Italy resorted to this stringent measure only after recording high casualties of over 300 and 600 respectively, India took swift action before a dozen casualties. The success of a lockdown is already evident as the three worst-hit European countries have begun to show signs of the virus slowing, three weeks into their lockdown. Early trends in India also point to a flattening curve. The Ministry of Health recently reported that a COVID positive patient could infect 406 people in a month without social distancing/ a lockdown. This number drastically reduces to 2.5 people with a lockdown. With its timely commitment towards fighting the virus, India has already saved many lives while simultaneously ensuring that the health system isn’t overburdened.

India’s strategy is driven through careful thought or soch. A simple look at the timeline and range of interventions reveals a phased and logical escalation of measures in sync with the pandemic’s progression – from travel advisories, universal thermal screening of international fliers, suspension of e-visas, quarantine of foreign travelers, to being one of the first countries to completely ban international and domestic travel. The country’s proactive containment strategy and dynamic decision-making is also evident in subtler nuances. For example, India restricted the export of personal and protective equipment (PPE) more than a month before WHO declared the virus as a pandemic. Through daily reviews and consistent analysis, the central and state governments are showing no inertia in thought – from revising guidelines and creating 11 dedicated empowered committees as quick response teams, to announcing measures dealing with policy fallouts (planning for migrant workers and the economy), there is proof that thinking across the system is aligned towards minimising the damage of this large-scale disaster.

For soch to translate into effective action, a nation needs to be samarth (capable).  If a successful Janta curfew and lockdown of impressive scale are not proof enough of India’s administrative capability, there are other examples. Quarantine stickers were placed on households with foreign travel history; isolation facilities are up and running in a matter of a few days; contact tracing is rampant – over 40,000 people in contact with just one man were identified across 20 villages; and over 22,000 government relief camps and 17,000 food camps have been established across the country, impacting about one crore people, among the poorest of the poor including migrant laborers. Supply shortages and disruptions are being effectively handled – essentials are being provided to over a billion people’ a dedicated fund in the form of PM-CARES has been established; and through innovation, the Aarogya Setu mobile application has been launched, leveraging technology as a critical tool, for effective risk and disease surveillance.  The Ministry of Health has transformed into a war room with real time data monitoring, driving evidence based policy.

The backbone of India’s capability is in sahyog – collaboration, cooperation and cohesion across the entire country. From round-the-clock work at the highest levels of governance and voluntary salary contributions, India’s Executive has set a model for the world. The Prime Minister, the Chief Ministers, the Bureaucracy, the District Administration and the frontline workers – the doctors, nurses, the anganwadi workers and municipal corporation staff -remain united in their strife. And this battle can only be won through partnership between the public and private sectors. This is already being seen on the ground – from volunteers feeding the hungry, top corporates and celebrities donating money, and private companies repurposing their manufacturing. NITI Aayog has reached out to over 92,000 non-governmental and civil society organizations to boost cross-sectoral collaboration.  In fact, the Indian defense services are contributing significantly to this war with the Air Force undertaking special flights with essentials to remote regions, the Navy building infrared-based temperature sensors, the Army establishing a command hospital in Jammu & Kashmir, the ordnance factories manufacturing masks, and the DRDO developing bio-suits. Sahyog is only possible in an open democracy like ours, where the Prime Minister, an effective communicator, is in constant interaction with States, political and spiritual leaders, and regularly reaches out to all of India’s citizens. Dismantling political and ideological barriers, the cohesion between the Centre and State Governments is truly astounding. The Ministries of Health and Family Welfare, and Home Affairs are doing daily briefings to mitigate information asymmetries. The media is free, information is widespread and governance is participatory.

The fifth tenet of the strategy is swarajya – self-rule. There is autonomy at every level – State and individual – to chart unique paths to battling this virus. For example, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh are containing the spread by sealing hotspots, Delhi is making masks compulsory, Tamil Nadu and Kerala are undertaking rapid testing, and Rajasthan’s Bhilwara model offers a replicable template. Further, the success of India’s strategy rests on every individual exercising their duty, through their ability to draw a Laxman rekha around one’s house, practice social distancing, and engage in hygienic practices.

The fight is far from over. India stands at the most critical week of the lockdown. In fact, what this pandemic has shown the world is that there is no best solution. Critics will be quick to point out inadequate planning or low testing. But one must look at how the nation is progressing in the battle. From the current capacity of 18,000 tests per day, India is planning to ramp up its daily testing capacity to over two and a half lakhs by increasing the number of labs, machines and test kits. Rest assured, the country’s strategy is evolving; there is unity in diversity. One thing remains certain – every Indian is unified in this war. Corona will not bring down the mighty Indian Elephant.

Amitabh Kant and Sarah Iype 

Source: Times of India

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