OPINION
OPINION

From Brexit Britain To Bogroll Britain, Lessons For India

India is lagging behind other countries in the spread of the corona pandemic. The virus first crawls in the population, then suddenly moves at supersonic speed. The delay gives India time to learn from other countries and prepare well when the tsunami hits. Perhaps it can learn most from the previous colonial master Britain, which has gone from one leap into the unknown, Brexit, to another, Coronaworld, with little foresight let alone planning.

Britain is nervous. The British are worried about the way the Government is managing this. The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has contracted Coronavirus himself and at least five senior doctors at the front line have died from it. Deaths are mounting. Vital medical supplies, masks and ventilators have still to arrive.  Meanwhile the British public seemed obsessed with bogrolls (toilet paper) when asked to stay at home. India has the time now to avoid all this mayhem.

Britain had a two month start but did little. China kept the world informed of the progress, the dangers and the epidemic nature of this Covid-19. It locked down an entire region, tested people in hundreds of thousands and built emergency hospitals within a week. Although China had initially kept a lid on this viral disease in December, it realised early on that this was an epidemic. It raised the alarm, got international institutions involved, shared biological and other epidemiological information by mid-January. On 30th January WHO declared Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

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China declared quarantine on 23rd January. Britain and USA had the time since then to plan their response. The leaders dismissed it with a cavalier attitude. Whereas China had to start from scratch, the rest of the world had the opportunity to learn from China’s mistakes and experience to set up tests, hospitals ventilators, supply chains for food and lockdown or quarantine procedures.

But both Britain and USA have chosen ‘showmen’ for leaders. Neither Boris nor Trump are leaders who inspire confidence in normal times let alone in a crises. The majority of their populations do not trust a word they say yet voted them in. Populism and a Twitter-limit attitude to political leadership, has now landed the British and American people in a position closer to underdeveloped countries, despite the fact both countries had the money, the skills, the resources to plan for this inevitable calamitous disease.

In contrast, the ever serious Germans, started developing tests for coronavirus in early January and had 4m kits by end of February. Germany started manufacturing and buying new ventilators by late January. German doctors had decided as late as December that this epidemic was going to become a world pandemic, based on previous pandemics. Its administration got into gear even before the disease arrived in numbers in Europe.

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In Britain, the section of the population, the elderly, that most rooted for Brexit, are the ones who are likely to be sacrificed by the leaders they voted in as the country struggles to cope with the potential cases. There is a de facto policy that people over 70 and especially 80, are unlikely to be given the full treatment chance with ventilators. There simply aren’t enough to go around as the Government dithered with a boisterous faith in ‘cant touch us’ approach until the devil landed on the door step. Playing gung ho politics with an unseen virus that knows no immigration rules or State boundaries, or border walls is another first for the British and American leaders.

The population saw the leaders were not up to it. It sensed lockdowns. To cope with the fear it went panic buying or as psychologists will not doubt say ‘retail therapy in crises’, to cope with the uncertainty. If the Government could not plan, at least Joe/Jane Public could ‘plan’ his /her supply chain by buying tens of toilet rolls. Britain went from Brexit Britain to Bogroll Britain. What else could joe/jane public do?

Both Britain and America have fumbled. If Brexit had already changed the world’s opinions about bumbling Britain in the Brexit harikiri venture, Britain’s response to this pandemic has confirmed their perspectives about the British State as an incompetent modern phenomenon.

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India can learn a lot from China’s experience and most of western world’s shambolic response. Prime Minister Modi has quickly put the country into a lockdown mode when a few hundred cases surfaced in India. He now has three weeks to plan a strategy that can minimise the infection rate and death toll when the Corona wave rises in India.

The way the Modi lockdown was instituted does not inspire confidence. It is reminiscent of the note bandhi days when the poorest were thrown to the wolves without planning the consequences of a sudden withdrawal of some currency. The daily wage earner, the biggest sector of the employed, suffered the most as their meagre money was no longer able to buy the daily food. Queues and chaos ensued. It could have been foreseen.

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The lockdown was done in the same way. It should have been possible for any ‘responsible babu’ to have predicted that people will rush to their villages for shelter and food. After all, the Indian ‘babu’ should know the nature of Indian people. The close proximity in buses and other transport has surely not helped. The consequences will become obvious in about three weeks.

Nor did the Prime Minister assure people that a plan was in place to get food to people locked in their houses as shops were also closed. Distributing food seems to have been started as an afterthought in response to the growing unrest that was resulting from mothers of hungry babies and children.

Nevertheless, it was wise to lockdown early rather than late as has happened in Britain and UK. This gives time for the administration to increase production of masks, testing kits, ventilators, emergency facilities and financial support.

There are still two weeks to plan this. The Indian administration, often ridiculed even by Indians, in fact is a genius in planning when forced to. The managements at Khumb mela is a showpiece of Indian management. Two weeks are no challenge to the administration. In fact it is more than enough time for an administration that can outdo the best of world’s management skills. It can also rope in the Army.

The Indian Army with its massive manpower is always deployed in natural disasters. It is a workforce that has always been relied upon during times such as this. It has the ability to build field hospitals, set up testing stations and ensure law and order. Working closely with civil authorities, it can reduce the impact of coronavirus financially and in human toll.

Given the disorganised and often rebellious nature of Indians to administrative authority, and their laid back approach to reporting, the real figures of people infected and deaths due to coronavirus will never be known in India. But with draconian powers and surveillance facilities that the current Government has acquired, it should not be far off the mark, were it to be honest with the statistics.

The administration needs to be applauded for its quick action. It can show countries like America and Britain that democracies can also manage a viral pandemic as efficiently as an authoritarian State such as China. Germany has shown that too. Germans have a reputation for forward planning and taking government as a serious institution unlike much of the rest of west whose populations seem to be focused on celebrity politicians. However Germany is a small country. India has a 15 times larger population.

The coronavirus is India’s test. It is helped partly by the hot weather on the horizon. But a systematic exit from lockdown with test centres, selective isolations, adequate food and other supplies, masks, emergency hospitals and Personal Protection Kits for medical staff will see it triumph and keep the death toll to less than thousand rather than near million mark. For once we can applaud the administration and the Prime Minister to have acted early and decisively.

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