Today would have been the end of the national lockdown scheduled three weeks ago had it not been extended up to the end of this month—a little over a fortnight away—a few days back bringing the total lockdown period to five weeks.
Things may stabilise by then. The hope for that stems from the expectation that India has not been hit by the SARS-Cov-2 virus as hard as, say, Italy or the US. As for the daily lives of people, some of us have settled pretty well into this lockdown while others elsewhere seem to find wandering out irresistible. All-in-all such normalisation of the lockdown and its turning almost into a sort of rigmarole mean the frequency of these diary entries will naturally follow suit and be attenuated.
Let us talk about personal fitness. Among the many miraculous realisations that seem to have come over people, one is the importance of maintaining their personal health during the quarantine. It is hard to say whether this is because of boredom or the severity of a sedentary lifestyle that people are being forced to live—but it is a good thing. Everyone is making do with what they have: walking around their balconies (which are often larger in India than in Europe) or rooftops; dusting their stationary bikes and treadmills; doing some dumbbell exercises (as is my case) along with some rooftop cardio and stretches. I have been using the excellent Nike Training Club app and have been recommending it to others too.
Elsewhere in the country people are going on walks en masse—literally in groups, a foot apart from one another, talking all the way. The police have been somewhat successful in curbing this weird practice but in a country with the population of India there will always be some unique challenges such as this one. Hopefully, people will learn better in due time.
There is little news today if at all. Most people seem to finally be getting used to the quarantine. We see many still roaming the streets, still the numbers have reduced. Alas the quarantine period is itself about to end and there are mixed rumours about what will happen next. Schools and Colleges have already been closed up to the end of May—and, in some states, like Orissa, till mid-June. IT firms may be allowed to work and they will seize the opportunity undoubtedly. This could potentially lead to a second phase of COVID-19 cases even as some remain convinced the first phase is itself yet to peak. We will have definitive news two days hence. The atmosphere is normal, quite like a holiday, with nobody visible freaked out. In two days that may change; whether it does so for the better or worse depends entirely on the Prime Minister of our country.
Manu S. (@s_manu6314) writes today’s diary entry—
As the saying goes, if bad things happen good things will follow. I am sure in this pandemic not everyone will die. More than the deaths people are scared by the increasing spread which is what has called for this lockdown.
India has 21 out of the 30 most polluted cities in the world. There have been protests to take strict action to reduce pollution in Delhi. The government even banned some old vehicles from the streets but it did not work. In the end people had to wear masks to even to breathe clean air. This pandemic shut down our railways, airports, metros and road traffic and the pollution has automatically reduced in cities like Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Delhi, Pune, Kolkata and Ahmedabad.
According to SAFAR (System of Air quality and weather Forecasting And Research), in Indian cities PM2.5 (particulate matter pollution) levels and nitrogen oxide (NOX) levels are coming down to satisfactory numbers. NOX is the main culprit behind the increased risk of respiratory problems these days. Over these 15 days of lockdown, NOX level have reduced in Delhi by 60%, in Mumbai by 60%, in Ahmadabad by 32% and in Pune by 62%. All these cities have reached a satisfactory level of air quality.
If this lockdown continues there is hope that pollution would reduce to safe levels. After the lockdown, everything will be reappear. The people and the government should experience this good environment and realise their faults. Some sever action must be taken by our governments to reduce pollution. I hope that long after this pandemic we can all continue to experience an unpolluted atmosphere.
There are murmurs (read, loud conjectures on the telly) about the government’s possible decisions regarding the lockdown on 14 April, when the ongoing quarantine period is scheduled to end. Some say it’ll be a ‘staggered end’ where different parts of the country will see different end dates to the lockdown. Others say it will simply be called off. I doubt the value of both, personally. If we are to contain this virus the lockdown must go on for another few weeks. India’s case and death counts are both still on the rise.
Some opposition has started to sound against the Prime Minister because he seems to have valued symbolic gestures of support and perceived solidarity over practical solutions against COVID-19. The approximately ₹17,000 crore (about $2 billion) released to states (unequally, based on how hard they have been hit by SARS-Cov-2) seems to have calmed some people down. Not doctors, though. It seems they have had enough at last: Following news of how the government has once too often tried to shut up healthcare professionals who voiced concerns regarding insufficient supplies of PPE, they were incredibly vocal in clarifying that clapping on the streets means nothing when the conditions in which doctors and nurses have to work is not improving our bit.
Also, Kamal Hassan, the South Indian actor, penned an open letter to the Prime Minister assuring his support but voicing his concern explicitly regarding the poor response to the pandemic in India. For the story about healthcare workers see The Scroll and India Today. And read Mr Hassan’s open letter in The Hindu.
The primary focus of the day was the anticipation, following the Prime Minister’s call from two days ago, of the exercise to light candles and lamps for nine minutes at 9 pm. People remained unclear why they were doing this but they did it anyway. The misinformation trolls took the public for a ride with various astrological nonsense about the significance of the exercise, and thus rose all the way to elected representatives claiming that lighting lamps would kill the SARS-Cov-2 virus.
In any case a lot of people did light lamps and did turn off their lights. Some even burst crackers in the middle of this pandemic while others set their homes on fire (for example in Patna, Mumbai and Solapur).
In the meanwhile, reminiscent of the wartime Christmas speeches she gave (at least that is the image it evokes in me thanks to The Crown on Netflix) Queen Elizabeth II telecast a message, speaking like a true leader on ‘self-discipline and quiet good-humoured resolve’ saying ‘I want to reassure you that if we remain united and resolute then we will overcome it.‘ Her speech although for Britons was really for the world. She did in about five minutes what most politicians have not been able to do for the past three months: she gave people ‘of all faiths and those of none’ a generous serving of hope and great boast in morale, both much needed in these somber, surreal times. (Her full speech.)
There is no news today.
Manu S. (@s_manu6314) writes today’s diary entry—
News of COVID-19 started gaining popularity in January this year; it got more attention and birthed fear in February 2020; seriousness about the virus increased in India in March 2020 and that too after the nationwide lockdown began.
After eight days of lockdown, fear about the virus is gradually decreasing. People are coming out of their homes now and then to buy, play, talk to neighbours etc. Also, the tight security of the police is disappearing. At my home too, the more the virus is in the news, involved in our daily lives, fear is gradually decreasing.
People’s desire for freedom is demanding that they view this practically rather than just look at the deaths of people around the world and sit back in fear. Even though the cases are increasing, people are calming down and starting to follow the WHO guidelines for taking precautions. They are not falling for fake news as much. Ultimately, our desire for freedom is leading us towards taking proper precautions and adjusting to this pandemic at all costs.
The Prime Minister called on the people of India to turn on their flashlights or light lamps and turn off all lights at home for nine minutes at 9 pm this Sunday (two days hence). His supporters are rushing to understand why he would demand this of the people of India at this point, while his detractors seem to have given up hope of India coming out of this crisis in one piece. It is hard to be a spectator to plays of stupidity.
Today the government released an app, Aarogya sethu, for ‘contact tracing’ COVID-19 victims. As an incredibly privacy conscious person I cannot bury the feeling I have deep inside that this app is simply going to be the first of many tracking and mining pathways that the government will set up under the cover of the ongoing crisis that it will liberally use, possibly with ill intentions, in the coming days long after this crisis has passed us.
The app requires permissions for bluetooth access (a popular method of indirect location tracking), full-time location tracking and the user’s phone number (also usable for location tracking besides individual profiling). The app claims all data is stored on your device and that only aggregate data is shared with the government. This is as yet unverified and in all likelihood will remain that way since the app has not been open sourced and public security auditing is out of the question.