Trying times test one’s character, and the grim situation unfolding over the COVID-19 pandemic will put on trial that of ours as a nation. Street-smart as we are—given our trademark pathological resilience and near-genetic affinity for jugaad to extricate out of sticky spots—this crisis riding on a rampaging virus creeping up to our doorsteps will require more than our inherent guile to combat.
Of particular worry is our creaky healthcare infrastructure that seems hard-pressed to cope even at normal times. But COVID-19 has escalated the pressure on the system to an entirely new level. Countries such as the US, Italy and Spain are struggling to stem its spread. That some, including myself, have been panicking in the face of doomsday scenarios being freely dished out by friends and relatives is not entirely unexpected. Alarmed that a total lockdown is imminent, cutting ourselves from other cities, and consequently our near and dear ones, was a terrifying cause for concern. It’s a different matter though that I have somewhat regained my composure since my daughter’s college in a faraway city announced a break and she hastily returned home to hunker down together for the unknown.
Somewhat unnerved, but not entirely drained of all sensibilities yet, I do admit that the most rational way of tackling what we are confronted with would be to take precautions and not unnecessarily panic. Like many other organisations, we at Outlook have also asked our staff to work from home to limit exposure. Social distancing is said to be the key to check the virus in its tracks. We are doing our bit. While we must do what we are required to do, including bringing out your favourite magazine, being both cautious and composed are undoubtedly the need of the hour.
Our response to the situation needs to be surefooted. True, many are questioning the limited testing facilities available currently for detecting infections. Quarantining possible carriers is also causing heartburn as it did this week when Indians returning from abroad were herded into shoddy government-run ad hoc facilities after an eight-hour wait without food or water at the Delhi airport. But mounting an operation to stop a pandemic is no small matter and we must rally behind our government at this critical moment, despite the customary slip-ups. Of course, we can dissect and debate at leisure what all should have been done, faster and better. For the moment, we must repose our faith in those who rule us and continue to hope they are doing all that they can to keep us safe.
The times we are in calls for grit, fortitude, and certainly gratitude. Above everyone else, we need to be thankful to the thousands of faceless men and women who are working tirelessly across the country and taking huge personal risks at the frontlines of the battle against the coronavirus. Doctor Rakesh Saini has volunteered to screen passengers at Jaipur airport. Muzaffer Ahmad, a doctor from Kashmir’s Budgam, continues to treat patients armed with only a surgical mask. Mridula S. Sree is a young nurse attending to infected patients at Alleppey’s medical college without a break.
This issue’s cover story is a tribute to such bravehearts, including the doctor in Karnataka who got infected after treating the state’s first COVID-19 patient, and also those in less glamorous but critically important roles—such as the janitors cleaning and sanitising hospitals, isolation facilities, public spaces and transport. While I acknowledge them, I also owe a big thank you to my team of reporters and photographers who bravely travelled to profile these people working fearlessly and tirelessly. It is because of them, I say, Outlook is in safe hands.
Ruben Banerjee is Editor in Chief