The second and final day-long lockdown was supposed to be today but the government has called it off likely realising its futility (see the 24th May entry for context). However, they attribute it to ‘public demand’ which to me sounds like they are playing safe. And so it is that today, as I pen this at 4 pm, on the final day of the national lockdown, we have been open in earnest since 7 am and will remain so up to 7 pm.

From tomorrow—unless the Prime Minister chooses to spring something upon the country in the form of another of his infamous 8 pm televised speeches—India will be fully open, except for 15 particularly badly-affected cities. At least that is the news as of today. Most interestingly, nobody cares two hoots about the lockdown, the news or the virus anymore, as if that even matters.

The fourth round of lockdown is in force with a curious type of curfew in place that most people—news channels included—are puzzled about: the two Sundays between 17th and 31st May are complete lockdowns while every other day remains open from 7 am to 7 pm. This is curious to say the least and feels to most of us like the government wanting to make a statement about its efforts more than actual efforts to contain the spread.

Karnataka in particular is comparatively safe but not safe per se. No state is. What is most interesting, though, is that people have officially gotten fed up with the virus. Nobody fears it now, much like nobody took it seriously at the start of our fight against SARS-Cov-2. The lockdown will probably fizzle away by the end of May.

16 May 2020

Saturday

The city I live in has been declared ‘COVID-free’. This is a small victory but by no means a permanent one. We had ninety patients, all of whom recovered.

What this means, on the optimistic side, is that others can take this as a morale boost; we can take this as a morale boost. There is light at the end of the tunnel and some of us have seen it, which means others can too. We can get things under control even if we will never be fully rid of SARS-Cov-2. The city administration of Mysore deserves a pat on their back, as do our cops and medical professionals, and our grocers and vendors, and our journalists and teachers and several others whose contributions are incredibly important but sadly go unnoticed.

On the pragmatic side, it is important not to loosen up now. Sure, opening the city up would be a great move—and that was precisely the (predictable) response—but reducing security, not so much. While we have no cases in the city, we are not immune to cases from outside the city slipping in. Our border security officials have to be all the more careful now. Our cops and doctors have to take a breather but not let their guard down. And above all, our citizens must not forget what we went through over the last two months and do their best to stay safe and hygienic.

One more interesting observation on traveling across districts today: the state government is helpfully offering two options for people who have been recommended quarantine, and these were I believe really thoughtful moves. One, simple quarantine facilities have been set up by the government and under their watch where people can opt to quarantine for free; two, more well-equipped, luxurious facilities have been set up by the government, also under its watch, where people can choose to pay for themselves and quarantine. Both facilities come in the form of rooms in existing hotels. This set up is great because it caters to everyone—those who cannot afford to quarantine, and those who can; those who have no complaints about quarantine facilities, and those who do.

Despite this, a group of travellers from outside the state refused to quarantine themselves in either set-up and had to be forced back to wherever they came from. Go figure. Some people just do not get it.

I had a rather interesting opportunity to travel across districts for the first time after over two months. It was interesting to see how the state was handling movement during the pandemic, especially since inter-district movement is being allowed only since a few days now.

Moving past about seven checkpoints made one thing clear: the strength in our dealing with this pandemic is not a centralised issue; it is not one that can be dealt with by a group of men at the national capital. Empowering local officials is of the highest importance. Of the seven checkpoints, four were lax, one was moderately well guarded, one did not care since we were leaving the district, not entering it, and one checked us thoroughly and with good intention but in vain—apparently, the only criteria for entering a district was that you had to be asymptomatic.

For a disease whose majority of victims are believed to be going undetected thanks to their being asymptomatic, the fact that all we are looking for are symptoms is worrying. That said, expecting full testing at every checkpoint would be unrealistic so I suppose this is the balance we have collectively chosen to strike.

Quick entry today thanks to a small observation I made. On my visit to the local pharmacy today to buy some masks, the gentleman at the counter told me that, one, his family was worried and wanted him to stop visiting the store lest he come down with COVID-19 himself; and two, the city administration had strictly warned pharmacies not to sell over-the-counter fever medication so that people developing a fever would compulsorily have to visit a hospital and could be tested for COVID-19.

I have no recollection of how this conversation came about, but I certainly do not regret it. It was a reminder that we are fighting this disease in a variety of ways and that the people selling medicines have families back home too who are just as worried as anyone else—not that I needed such a reminder.

Things in the country are slowly going into disarray. Even as two weeks of the lockdown remain, parts of the country are being opened up. There is no method to this madness. There is no good that can come from this. No sooner than we reached a level of being able to handle this crisis that we made things worse for ourselves through haste. If we take one wrong step now, the past month-and-a-half of quarantine will have been for nothing.

But it was none of this that prompted me to record my thoughts today. Instead, it was the recurring observation that in the middle of all this was one curious constant: a Sunday. No matter what, it turns out a Sunday is a Sunday. Perhaps it is because we have been maintaining some semblance of a schedule every day, but come Sunday there is that freeing feeling, that recognition that tomorrow is a Sunday, that one can get up just a little but later than usual, take things a little freer than usual. A Sunday is a Sunday no matter what. But it is even better these days because it is not promptly followed by Monday blues.

The government of India (I think, see postscript below) has an interesting undertaking that I have neither mentioned in these entries before nor heard being taken up elsewhere in the world.

Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic started, caller tunes on phones across carrier networks have blasted state-sponsored awareness messages. The start was memorably awkward: a cough would gather the caller’s attention before social distancing was explained. The purpose of this is clear enough as is its intention—and I have no doubt it worked—but it was funny because lots of people were originally tricked into thinking that it was the person they were calling who was coughing. Hilarity ensued.

Today, a new type of caller tune sounded when I telephoned my wife. It was meaningful and a reflection of the goings on in the country. It spoke of fighting viruses and not patients or healthcare workers. It urged people not to discriminate racially or religiously and to support frontline workers like the police working to uphold the lockdown and ASHA workers (Accredited Social Health Activists) who are going street to street gathering ground reports on the status of COVID-19 in India. Hopefully, this message is as effective as the previous ones in a country that is seeing religious and communal tones being painted over the ongoing crisis.

Addendum. Shortly after this entry was published, the lockdown was extended by about a fortnight—up to 17 May—and that has brought a lot more voices against it and for ‘the economy’ all of a sudden. I gather it’s just people rushing to leave home, not that everyone followed the lockdown norms religiously.

P.S. It is perhaps important to note that this message relays in vernacular which means there is no telling if the use of caller tunes is nationwide or restricted to one state. Hopefully it is the former.

29 April 2020

Wednesday

A quick visit to the supermarket has at last made the lack of groceries apparent—at least where I normally go. The shelves are starting to look empty, products that were almost never unavailable now are. The just-in-time supply chain that was celebrated for its efficiency is showing us its downsides: stocks are few and far between. Yet, to chide a system that worked for us beautifully for over a decade just because it failed us in such an exceptional circumstance would be unwarranted. A lot of places around the world are undoubtedly worse off but this is no time for comparison. It is simply a case of the war coming too close to home for comfort.

As for the rest of the world, a few observations can be made: one, the discussion is moving from fighting COVID-19 (which our healthcare systems have slowly come to terms with) to dealing with the various implications of the nationwide lockdown. At this point, we will be better off erring on the side of caution and extending the lockdown but some governments may have other plans in mind. Two, the earth has promptly moved on: monsoon has set in and early this morning we had what I call level two showers (that is where, if you were driving, you would have to turn your windscreen wiper up to level two).

Finally, and perhaps most scarily, the events of the past month or so are slowly starting to feel like faded memories. The intensities of the struggles we faced as a civilisation early this year have become unusually hard to recall. The desperation that was all around us feels unreal—like it never happened. There is a sense of misleading calm and control, as though this was a phase that has finally passed us. I hope against hope that I am the only one feeling this way, but I doubt it. The implications of this can be staggering: we will not learn from the events of this year; we will repeat our mistakes again. It is ominous, nonetheless it is so.

People and governments are starting to squirm with discomfort. The government relaxed some rules in areas not classified as containment zones. The only publication reporting this so far is this shady-looking one although some mainstream news outlets may pick it up soon. However, it is being reported on TV and people are talking about it, so rest assured this is ground reality.

While some may believe this is a good idea given restrictions have not been lifted in containment zones, it helps to pause and think about how these containment zones came to be demarcated in the first place. No rigorous testing was done: containment zones are simple areas where cases exist. In other words there may be cases in regions besides these as well—in those which the state government has opened up in some measure—but we just do not know it yet. Personally, I feel this is not a gamble worth taking. I hope I am proven wrong.

Manu S. (@s_manu6314) writes today’s diary entry—

We are now living with a virus. It is sad and fearful but we have to accept that. The lockdown is probably no fully successful, our economy is falling and daily wage labourers are struggling to get food for their family.

Construction activities have been shut down so wage earners are unable to find any work. The government is helping farmers under its Kisan scheme, depositing ₹2,000 in everyone’s account. That is nice, but what about the migrants who are over a million in number? Is the government trying other ways taking this period seriously?

Every village and every area in our cities has healthcare centres, yet every home and every individual has not been tested. Testing is reserved for hotspot areas. But we must test more and clear hotspots one by one; that is how we should fight this virus.

Just yesterday, the Indian government purchased 500,000 testing kits, after almost four months of the pandemic. If they continue to lock the country down like this, we will likely all face poverty. Testing needs to be stepped up to prevent the weakening of our society. It is sad how slowly the government is taking its decisions. It is really showing: how interested they were when it came to acting upon Article 370 and CAA/NRC. In my opinion they are not showing even 10% of that interest in fighting this virus.

This pandemic is really serious. It will affect the government and the people hard in the coming days. They may stand still and hope it goes away, but it will not.

The opinions expressed in this entry are the author’s alone.