The inevitable finally happened. The fatal COVID-19 virus continued its creep against the longest and strictest lockdown to penetrate our population. Our country is now ranked seventh in terms of the total number of COVID-19 cases and fifth in terms of active cases in the world. As well, the hitherto unscathed Himalayan state of Sikkim has now finally been infiltrated by the most dreaded virus.

These realities were only predictable given the sneaky spread of this virus across the globe. We, in our country, wasted a lot of energy and time formulating a narrative that the lockdown was the ultimate and ‘once and for all’ solution. In our state, we were thinking that blocking entry into the state was an unexcelled feat and a decisive step. We could not have been more wrong.

Our most important battle against COVID-19 is much more complicated than just blocking the spread of the virus. We can hardly fault our government. The most advanced countries in the world like the US, France and Canada were found to be vulnerable. However, our central government undid the impact of the lockdown by its massive mismanagement of the migrant worker issue.

However, the Sikkim government could not have done anything to block its entry. Many NE states had to encounter a massive rise as they received returnees from other states. Nagaland, going from zero active cases to 80 in just a few days was the most shocking. Arunachal Pradesh going from zero to 37 active cases was also disappointing news. Just as eulogizing the government for zero cases back then was futile, so blindly criticizing the government for the entry of positive cases is a pointless waste of time. But let me share three focus areas for our government now that it has arrived.

Ramping up testing: Testing can never be overemphasized. Epidemiologists worldwide have been asking the Indian governments to ramp up their testing to enhance the impact of the lockdown. I wish our country had paid more heed to their advice. Sikkim, with its maiden testing laboratory, is fully equipped to ramp up testing. I hope that we will take maximum advantage of the lab.

Banning the stigmatizing of Covid-19 patients: Sikkim must stand rock solid behind these patients. Only a barbaric soul, destitute of common sense and basic human compassion, will stigmatize those who are diagnosed with the virus. Their recovery will be our triumph.

Revival and recovery of people’s lives and the state’s economy: This is where the performance of the government is of paramount importance. Never before were governmental intervention and help so vital.  

Life, in general, has been messed up as never before. The income of hundreds of daily wagers has either stopped completely or shrunk considerably. Many entrepreneurs have received too strong a jolt to just pick themselves up and keep walking. Many businesses have been damaged beyond revival and other’s businesses have slowed down, incurring massive losses. The education of children has been another hugely affected issue. In the private sector, many have lost their jobs or haven’t received their salaries.

The biggest challenge for the government would be to put in place measures to bring life in general to pre-pandemic normalcy. I hope that all the ground realities will be studied comprehensively and factored into their economic revival plans.

The problem with a younger state like ours is that we do not have eminent economists who can come in handy in a situation like this. Nor do we have well-studied watchdogs who can analyse the situation and warn the government accordingly. All Sikkim has is a bureaucracy as its strongest arm to mitigate the situation. How they fare will be vital in how effectively Sikkim can stave off the spinoffs of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It would be helpful for the state government to start a dialogue with people and civil society to get their perspective as well. If the economic revival process has to be inclusive, there must be an attempt on the part of the government to get all political parties and all economic stakeholders on board. The truest test of the government’s performance will be evaluated by looking at how thoroughly, quickly and strongly life can be restored post-pandemic.

The biggest challenge for the government would be to put in place measures to bring life in general to pre-pandemic normalcy. I hope that all the ground realities will be studied comprehensively and factored into their economic revival plans.

By Jiwan Rai. The author can be contacted at jiwanr@gmail.com

Views/Opinions expressed in the article or write up is purely of the author or writer and not of the Sikkim Chronicle. For any queries or contradictions, the author can be contacted at his/her email id.

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