You Can’t Tell People What To Do Without Saying What Government Will Do
In his address to the nation on 24th March 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for a lockdown was a welcome sign that the government is ready for decisive action to combat the coronavirus. Let us hope that it has its intended effect and will help to flatten the curve of the spread of the virus.
But on many counts, the speech fell far short of what was needed. He did not delineate any framework by which it will be ensured that people can go out and purchase food and other essential commodities. In the absence of such an announcement, immediately after his speech there was a rush to stores in panic to stock up on essentials before the lockdown came into effect at midnight. So just before a lockdown, he made people congregate in crowds, which is totally counterproductive. Moreover, panic buying destabilises supply chains in a situation that is already difficult.
The major concern is that he did not address, in any concrete manner, what the government is doing:
· Five days after his announcement of creation of a task force to tackle the pandemic, headed by the finance minister, there is little clarity on who will constitute this task force and what it will do.
· No announcement on what measures will be taken to help daily wage earners, and other economically vulnerable constituencies, in surviving the lockdown. A financial allocation was mentioned, but not only is that allocation at a national scale smaller than what the single state of Kerala has announced, there was no clarity on what these funds will be allocated to.
· No announcement on the government’s strategy for ramping up testing, given that most public health experts have said there is insufficient testing happening, and only large-scale testing will give us a true measure of the problem.
· No announcement on measures being taken to meet the urgent requirement of providing PPE’s (personal protective equipment) for healthcare workers and quarantined patients with their caregivers. Apparel manufacturers are in a position to re-organise in order to make masks, but we do not know if any such proposals are being actively considered.
· No announcement on measures being taken to ramp up supply of critical equipment such as ventilators. In the UK, companies like Airbus and Rolls Royce have been roped in to manufacture ventilators, and surely there are stalwarts of Indian industry who can be called in for help in a similar manner. We do not know if any such proposals are being actively considered.
· No announcement on what is being done to increase capacity in the healthcare system. Many countries have set up temporary hospitals, some through converting public facilities such as stadia and convention centres. We do not know what is being planned on this count.
The speech was long on symbol and short on substance. It gave the impression that, in mass public communications during a national crisis, the government will tell the people what they should do but does not feel obliged to reveal what it is doing. This is not how it should be in a democracy, and citizens are left without the degree of reassurance they so desperately need in these difficult times.