The Weekly Dose: Lockdown
We may never know who Patient Zero was. But what we should never forget - we who lambasted migrants heading home in packed trains - is that in all likelihood, corona was imported to India by air, at the behest of someone who could afford a flight ticket. Someone wealthy. If - despite the nationwide lockdown - the virus spreads more than it already has, let us not forget that we - the disposable income, travel-for-work, travel-for-pleasure upper-middle class - are responsible for seeding it in the farthest corners of the country.
This is not a disease of those people. Of the great unwashed. Of street dwellers. Of slums. If they have contracted it, it came from us, and not the other way around.
We haven’t yet identified a Patient Zero for the epidemic; the solitary, infected person who flung himself or herself like a stone into an ocean of Indians without any immunity to the virus. It’s possible that they weren't even aware of carrying corona. But what we can be certain about is that this person was one of us. A businessman who imports toys from China, returning after his monthly trip. Or a newlywed couple on their honeymoon, who caught a show and a cold at an Italian opera. Or a pilgrim blissful after completing the Umra, feverish with excitement and other things on the way back home.
We may never know who it was. But what we should never forget - we who lambasted migrants heading home in packed trains - is that in all likelihood, corona was imported to India by air, at the behest of someone who could afford a flight ticket. Someone wealthy. If - despite the nationwide lockdown - the virus spreads more than it already has, let us not forget that we - the disposable income, travel-for-work, travel-for-pleasure upper-middle class - are responsible for seeding it in the farthest corners of the country.
We wiped our noses with tissues that we then casually left on the armrests of airport lounges. We suppressed coughs with self-prescribed syrups and pills, and watched movies, attended concerts, and drank ourselves silly in crowded bars. We showered the virus on our surroundings like sprinklers in a garden and then proceeded to enjoy the garden itself.
No, we didn’t know we were carriers. Not initially. But as we tapped on a few news alerts every morning, didn’t we make the connection between our symptoms and corona? We, who frown when one of them spits on the road, or doesn’t cover her mouth while coughing - we pushed the possibility of corona to the back of our minds and pretended it didn’t exist.
We read the numbers. We saw the death tolls mount. We began to be - and are - scared shitless. Overnight, we became paranoid hypochondriacs and sticklers for hygiene. The little bottles of sanitiser in our handbags were upgraded to giant dispensers in each room, frequently used, frantically topped up. We began to stay at home and cracked work-from-home jokes.
But we did not allow our employees to work from home. The cook was still expected to come twice a day to make hot chapatis. The driver changed two buses to be on call, should we crave a packet of Maggi. With our newfound free time, we shopped online for critical supplies like slim-fit shirts and novels about epidemics, delivered by men with handkerchiefs wrapped around their faces, who travelled from distant warehouses, only to be stopped by our security guard - who cannot work from home either.
The separate elevators, staircases and toilets for service staff in our apartment buildings finally make sense - let those who are compelled to use them not have to breathe the air we breathe. Let them be spared.
But the first cases in hutments, basis, and slums have already begun to emerge. Contact tracing here is wishful thinking. It is up to us to wall ourselves and our infections in; not only to protect those less privileged but because once it is widespread among them, it will encircle us all in a ring of fire.
Those who subsist on daily earnings - whose incomes are hitting ground zero because you and I are cooped up at home and not spending cash - cannot practice social distancing. Those who work in sweatshops in twelve-hour shifts, and live in hovels on top - cannot self-isolate when the machines are shut and both sets of workers are crammed into the same tin box. Those who do not have access to water and soap cannot wash their hands every twenty minutes.
We - who can say things like ‘my room’ and ‘my house’ - should assert our territory and keep our distance from one another. We who complain about infringements on our space should carve out our privacy. We who enjoy the privilege of running water and medicated soap - should use it.
We should because only we can.
A few days ago, at the supermarket, I watched a woman purchase ten kilos of onions. Ten. Kilos. When we who have deep pockets hoard groceries, we make them unaffordable to those who can buy only a few hundred grams at a time. When we rush to the pharmacist and swipe our credit cards for a few week’s worth of tablets that may or may not protect against corona, we create a shortfall for contacts of actual patients, and healthcare personnel, who need it more than we do. And when we exploit our contacts to procure masks that we strap on in the safety of our homes, we expose a doctor, nurse, or hospital attendant to a day of possible infection, and death.
If the present trend of infection transmission continues, the gap between the rich and the poor will, for all practical purposes, disappear. Sure, we will be able to afford treatment at a private hospital, but ventilators will still be in woefully short supply. We may stock up on boxes full of possibly prophylactic hydroxychloroquine, but no one can buy a treatment for the virus; it doesn’t exist. And finally, corona takes a more severe course in the elderly and those with underlying health conditions - money cannot buy us health, or youth.
In these circumstances, the only way to do something - anything - for one’s own survival is to be mindful that others survive too. Corona can slither down ivory towers, and climb them too. There is nowhere to run, and nowhere to hide. Stay wise. Stay put. Stay safe. Stay home.