‘Won’t Send My Child To School Till He Is Fully Vaccinated’

Anita Jha (39) did not send her 15-year-old son, studying is Class 10, to his school in Faridabad when it reopened after a gap of several months. She narrates the reasons behind her decision

On August 1, 2021 we received a communication from my son’s school that they were planning to reopen and asked us to convey if we would be willing to send our ward to the school. The notice also mentioned that the offline and online classes will continue simultaneously, and parent were free to choose any option.

I decided NOT to send my son to school.

The reason is simple: Saket, my son, is not vaccinated. I know virology experts say that even after vaccination, an infection may occur and we need to follow same prescribed precautions as earlier. However, the inoculation does provide the body a better ability to fight and defeat Covid-19 infection. And therefore a jab would have given us some assurance of our child’s safety.

Having stated my reasons, I fully support the government decision to reopen schools. Nothing can compensate a physical classroom when it comes to inclusive learning. But, till the time Saket is fully vaccinated I don’t want to take any risk. Some of my friends have chosen otherwise. In my son’s class of 37 students, about one fourth have chosen to attend the school. To each its own; let this be a personal choice for every parent.

Some people may argue that if parents can take their children to shopping malls, outdoor parks and other public spaces, what is the harm in sending them to a school. My counter to them is: in all such cases, the children are under direct supervision of the parents while at school, the children, either carelessly or under peer pressure, may throw caution to the wind.

Anita Jha says her son Saket improved his grades while attending online classes

This is what happened when the schools reopened last time. Infections soared and the government had to hastily retract their decision. We should have learnt our lessons from that.

I do not doubt the preparedness of the school. Over the last few months, my son went to school for collection of some study material and he told me that proper social distancing was being maintained and in one class they were asked to sit leaving two benches in between. And since only class 9-12 are called, social distancing norms are easily maintained.

ALSO READ: Online Classes Drain The Parents Completely

However, how does one keep a watch on the kids all the time? Even if a few children follow Covid-19 protocol, they cannot enforce similar pandemic-appropriate behavior on others in the absence of the teacher. We all know how teenagers are.

Besides, thanks to our access to high-speed Internet and other gadgets, I didn’t see any challenges in my son’s academic performance during online classes. In fact, there is now some self-discipline and improvement in his grades. If the purpose is taken care of by online class then why rush with offline learning in these uncertain times! Why can’t we wait till the vaccination of children is also complete?

It is not only about maintaining precautions in school premises. Not every family can afford a personal vehicle to pick and drop the child from school and hence they have to end up taking a shared or public transport. This increases the risk manifold.

Already, there have been talks of a looming third wave and new variants of the virus that may infect young children too. That worries me. Of course, if the government makes attending schools mandatory, we would have no choice. But I sincerely hope that we make quick progress on vaccination of adolescents and only after that think of reopening schools.

As Told To Mamta Sharma

Covid Has Deepened India’s Poverty Pit

Stark poverty and hunger is stalking contemporary India but no one wants to see it or talk about it, especially the establishment and its economists. If statistics could tell stories of infinite sorrow, then nothing less than a mass tragedy, devastating, invisible and ghettoized, is currently stalking the inner lanes of an unhappy Indian landscape, and spreading with as much deathly intent as the deadly delta virus. 

First, let us talk of the ‘missing women’. The unorganized sector, with practically no rights for workers, operated by cold-blooded sharks outside official labour laws, with not even job protection for fixed days, or fixed wages, shelter and crèches for children, no maternity and health benefits for women, no provident fund/gratuity/pension, or trade union rights, etc, constitutes more than 90% of the Indian workforce. Barring some states like Kerala, Delhi and West Bengal, workers in the unorganized sector largely don’t have fundamental rights. Half of them are women – and most of them are from the poorest communities – landless Dalits, adivasis, extremely backward castes, Muslims.

The fact is thousands of women seem to have disappeared from the work force since the pandemic. So where have all the women gone?

It’s a fact that majority of domestic helps, working in the gated societies, for instance, lost their meager income since March last year. Many of them were socially ostracized, unceremoniously sacked, not paid their wages, and banned from entering the gated societies. Many were compelled to ‘migrate’ back to their jobless small towns or villages with eternally stagnant economies.

Workers were told by their employers to leave the dingy tenements in urban ghettos, where 5 or more would share a room, because they could not pay the rent. Their children opted out of schools. Many women, and their kids, were seen ‘begging’ outside the posh markets in Noida, even as the rich filled their cars with goodies during the relaxation in curfew hours.

ALSO READ: No Country For Migrant Workers

Many families have been starving, or eating one meal. All of them want to work and earn with dignity; others are afraid to stand in long, crowded food queues because of fear of the virus. For a long period those who did not have Aadhar or ration cards, had no clue how to get food from the public distribution system, even in a city like Delhi.

Consulting firm Dalbert, in a study conducted during March-October last year, reported that women have reduced their food intake because of less income, their rest hours have decreased and ‘unpaid care work hours’ have increased, at least a tenth of the women said that food is in very short supply and they are eating less, 16% had limited or no access to menstrual pads, while 33% of married women had no access to contraceptives as the pandemic disrupted public health outreach programmes. More than 43 per cent women were yet to recover their paid work. While it was terrible last year, the second surge devastated them. The study surveyed 15,000 women and 2,300 men from low-income households in 10 Indian cities.

“If the virus does not kill us, poverty will kill us,” said a balloon seller last winter in Noida. The invisible working class ghetto inhabited by Dalits and extremely backward caste people from Bengal, Bihar and UP, in Noida, surrounded by swanky highways and palatial houses, became jobless overnight on March 24, 2020. The street food vendor found no buyer, rickshaw-pullers no passengers, traffic light sellers no customers, even as thousands of construction workers were rendered jobless as the real estate industry crashed. Workers in the unorganized and small-scale industry, its back broken by demonetisation and GST, found a quagmire beneath their feet – rapidly sinking, and not a straw to hold on.

Stark poverty and hunger has been systematically turned invisible in India in the neo-liberal era, especially in the metros. Therefore, it was disconcerting for the cocooned affluent society when images of thousands of migrant workers suddenly emerged on highways, walking under a scorching sun. Pray, who are these condemned and exiled people?

With their worn out clothes, sacks and plastic bags, mothers holding their children, often barefoot, hungry and thirsty, with absolutely no relief from the central government, they were escaping the stark social/economic uncertainty after a lockdown was suddenly declared by the Centre. Among many enduring images of this Indian reality was the image of a dead mother at the Muzaffarpur Railway Station, her little child tugging at her sari. She was a migrant worker trying to go ‘home’ – from Ahmedabad to Bihar.

ALSO READ: Covid Ruined My Life – Financially

Delhi is classified as the most urban state (98%) in India. According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), Delhi reported the lowest labour force participation rate (LFPR) for women during the pandemic. Female LFPR was as low as 5.5% compared to the male LFPR of 57. Unemployment among women was 47%, compared to 21 among men.

As many as 10 crore people reportedly lost their jobs during the nationwide April-May 2020 lockdown. While in the pre-election scenario in 2019, India marked the highest rate of unemployment in 45 years, a reality the Modi-led government tried to fudge, currently, it is estimated, approximately 140 million people are jobless, and this includes the corporate sector. The jobless figures are hazy; unemployment has shot up to 11.7 %, last year it was 8. Job losses have been higher in Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi, due to the impact of Covid.

A new Pew Research Center study states that consequent to the ‘deep recession’ in 2020, the middle class has shrunk by 32 million. This substantiates the speculation that millions of middle class households have been pushed into low income groups. The 32 million listed by Pew accounts for “60 per cent of the global retreat” in the number of people in the middle-income tier (defined here as people with incomes of $10-20 a day).

The number of people who are poor in India (with incomes of $2 or less a day) has increased by 75 million because of the COVID-19 recession. This factor also accounts for 60% of the global increase in poverty.

According to the Pew study, only 19% women remained employed and a high 47% suffered a permanent job loss, not returning to work even by the end of 2020. That is, almost half of the women workforce has effectively ‘disappeared’.

The study reported: “Prior to the pandemic, it was anticipated that 99 million people in India would belong in the global middle class in 2020. A year into the pandemic, this number is estimated to be 66 million, cut by a third. Meanwhile, the number of poor in India is projected to have reached 134 million, more than double the 59 million expected prior to the recession…”

Surely, there are millions of micro cases spread like unwritten stories of infinite inequality and economic/social discrimination across the remote rural terrain and in urban ghettos. They need to be documented, filmed, and written. The scale of this human tragedy could be epical.

Indeed, Mamata Banerjee made a cryptic point recently in Delhi: she said that it’s high time we have ‘sachche din’ in India –we already have had an overdose of ‘achche din’.

‘Covid Has Brought Travel Inc To Its Knees, Govt Must Help’

Mohammad Ali, a Delhi-based travel business owner, says 90 per cent of the industry is reeling under severe setback and there is no light at the end of tunnel

Covid-19 has left devastation in its trail and the sectors that have been the worst affected are hospitality and travel. I had only recently started a travel business called Trip Astrologer that handled both domestic and international travel and was doing fairly well until the pandemic struck.

In fact I often handled group travel plans of large number of people to South East Asia, especially Thailand and Malaysia. At the fag end of 2019 while we were handling a group trip, we began hearing news about a virus from China. Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore had begun reporting a few cases of Covid by then. We started alerting our clients to follow protocols like wearing masks, washing hands regularly etc. and braced ourselves as a business for a little setback. But none of us had expected this to go on for so long and at such scale.

In March, 2020, the business went down to an absolute zero, no clients. We had bookings for a large number of domestic travellers to Imagicaa Water Park in Mumbai and it hurt when that trip had to be cancelled because of the pandemic. Plus, we had to refund. Our staff strength dwindled.

From March to September, there was no movement in the travel industry at all. And through it all I was paying the rent for both my office space as well as my rented accommodation, plus EMIs. Unlock brought no respite. Some were scared to step out while many wanted to keep money aside for emergencies. Many a people had lost their jobs or suffered losses in business and travel was perhaps the last thing on their mind.

In October 2020, work picked up but it was the bigger players who reaped the profits. Smaller players like us couldn’t do much about it. It is only my savings that saw me and my family through. But there was uncertainty as to how long the situation would last, for savings can sustain us only up till a point and fresh earnings are needed.

Finally in December a few domestic travellers were ready to travel and in February locations like Dubai and Maldives began opening up; small businesses like mine heaved a sigh of relief. But it was short-lived, for while Dubai was okay the RTPCR tests in Maldives cost a lot (they were charging in dollars, which meant a huge jump in prices for Indian customers, say about 50%) and that left many a traveller discouraged. Earlier we had travellers going to European countries, US and other popular global destinations book with us, but there were not many travellers to those countries as well. We were left with very few domestic travellers and even fewer locales where they could travel to, namely Goa, Kerala, Kashmir, Shimla etc.

ALSO READ: ‘Govt Did Little To Help Business Amid Covid’

Then came the deadlier second wave that left everyone shocked and wearier than before. April-May and November-December used to be peak travel seasons and we had really set our hopes high for the summer months. I also had plans to start my business’ website but that also had to be shelved.

I wound up my office space and left for my maternal grandparents’ home in UP in May because I just needed to find my motivation back again. I came back to Delhi in July beginning and felt a little glimmer of hope (even though one can say that 90% of the travel industry is on its knees).  However, I began declining clients who wanted to travel to Shimla-Manali-Kasauli as that route was getting overcrowded.

As a responsible citizen I felt it was my moral and social responsibility to ensure that no destination posed a health risk to travellers or locals because of overcrowding. We all need to behave responsibly if we want coronavirus to be a thing of the past. That, and the government needs to provide some serious support to the travel and hospitality sector quickly. Recently the biggest travel expo of South Asia that is held year after year in India, saw only 20% attendance. If these are not the sign of the times, I don’t know what is. I still am holding on to my courage and optimism.

‘Covid Fear Made Me See Mall Customers As Live Viruses’

Meera Singh, 36, who worked as a cashier at an upscale shopping mall in Gurgaon, explains why she quit her job in Delhi-NCR and went to her native place in Deoghar

I moved to Delhi-NCR in 2007, and in 2015 I joined Sapphire Mall, Gurugram as a cashier for a boutique with international clientele. Besides managing the clients, I handled their GST and other finance-related bills for the boutique. It was a comfortable job till the pandemic struck in March 2020. In June the same year, I decided to quit, and return to my native place in Deoghar (Jharkhand). In spite of several calls to rejoin work, I have no plans to return to Delhi. Let me explain why.

When the pandemic struck, no one had any idea what was going on or what was the way forward. We wondered what the future held finance-wise or when the lockdown would get over. From March 23 (when the lockdown was announced) until June we were on tenterhooks.

Even when the Unlock began, and I rejoined work, it was stressful. In every shopper who came in I saw a potential virus carrier. And since I was the one at the forefront handling cash (cash would be transferred from one hand to another) I felt I was under a lot of risk. Our international clientele base (mainly NRIs) also left me worried, because it were people who travelled from the West to India were considered the biggest risks.

Even though we followed all Covid protocols to the tee, like regular sanitisation, wearing masks, maintaining social distancing, the virus was making its way into people’s lungs and lives. The media reports of crowded hospitals and overflowing crematoriums made it worse. With the constant pressure of staying safe in a public place, the stress soon began to tell.

Finally when talks of a pay-cut began doing the rounds, my husband and I decided it was not worth the risk. The pandemic had taught us about the fragility of life; I didn’t want to be away from my children, who were with their grandparents, or my ageing parents and in-laws anymore.

ALSO READ: ‘Life Is Tough For Migrant Workers’

First my husband, an engineer, left for our hometown and I followed shortly after on June 21. It required some effort to manage a seat on the flight from Delhi to Patna. A fortnight was spent in quarantine and then I started thinking about the future. With my expertise in handling retail business at a big mall in a big city, I decided to start my own retail business.

In September 2020, I opened up a small unit that sell cosmetics, and other knick-knacks. I feel I am more in control here because unlike in Gurugram, people who come to my shop are part of a tight-knit community and listen to us more readily when we suggest they follow Covid measures. Plus, you feel secure that your family is right there and you don’t need to travel (which is a huge fight in itself in these times) anywhere. And most importantly, I get to be with my children every day. There’s no wealth in the world bigger than the health and happiness of your kids and other family members.

As Told To Yog Maya Singh

‘Lockdowns, 1st Wave, 2nd Wave… Life Is Tough For Migrants’

Mohammad Manan, 25, a migrant worker who came to Delhi-NCR from Bihar, says he has survived so far but is worried about an impending third Covid wave

I came to Delhi- NCR nearly a decade ago for work. Supporting a family is no easy task but I was managing it fine until the pandemic struck.  Since then, things have gotten very confusing and uncertain. The recurring lockdowns, the first wave, the second wave, it is a difficult time for everyone.

After the first wave last year, we thought we had survived the virus. But then came the second wave and I had to return to my village Sonbarsha in Saharsa district (Bihar) to be with my ageing parents. Most migrant workers from the locality I live in left for their native places as they did during first lockdown. We braved the first wave, but the second wave was worse than the first, so we decided to leave.

Lockdowns have impacted everyone’s earnings, be it migrant workers like me or people who run businesses. Everyone has been worried about their job or business security. I went home in April and came back in June-end, so basically I stayed in Bihar for two months. I strained my savings to travel in Three-Tier AC in the train because I was worried about contracting the virus. After all I was going back to earn a living and couldn’t afford to fall sick as soon as I entered the city of my livelihood for so many years.

ALSO READ: No Country For Migrant Workers

When I reached Ghaziabad (NCR), unlock had begun and someone else had been hired in my place at the optical shop I worked for. I spent two weeks in agony not knowing what I would do for a living and applied at various places. A family of six is dependent on me. My wife works as a domestic help and supports the family, but in these times one needs to have enough savings. Kabhi medical help ki zaroorat ho to hamare pas hath me kuch paise hon (there should be reserve cash for medical situation).

Luckily I got my old job back. I wish there were work opportunities in my village too. Those two months I earned nothing.

Even though I have my old job back, predictions of a third wave has me worried. What will we do if it is even more dangerous than the second and the lockdown stricter and longer? So many business days that have gone waste. Every month I send some money to my parents and God forbid if anyone contracts the virus! I wish the government improves the healthcare facilities in rural areas and also figured out ways to support people who have lost their jobs or whose businesses were impacted.

Right now, we are just about managing somehow but my biggest strength is my wife’s optimism and courage. She says we need to take one day at a time, and be thankful for each day that we have survived. She says even though our position is shaky we can keep figuring out newer ways to earn. I have picked up some tailoring skills and do minor alterations etc and get paid for it.

So we believe God helps those who work hard. My workplace is around 15 minutes away from my home and I use my cycle to commute. Thank God I use a cycle, with the price of petrol shooting up continuously driving a bike is a costly affair.

As Told To Yog Maya Singh

Is India Prepared For 3rd Covid Wave?

Indonesia now is in exactly the same terrible and tragic situation as India was during the peak of the second surge. Australia is going for a lockdown, and even New Zealand, hitherto totally safe, is on high alert. With cases rising in thousands every day, Boris Johnson might once again take the UK down the drain if he opens up the lockdown on July 19, even while all is not well in Catalonia/Barcelona in Spain, among other EU nations.

Vice President Kamala Harris led a ‘pride rally’ recently without a mask. Americans in many parts are allowed to come out in the open without masks. However, with 50 per cent fully vaccinated, is the virus really “on the run”, as President Joe Biden so proudly claimed on Independence Day, 4th of July?

There is reportedly a ‘silent surge’ in many parts of America and it is worrisome. It is being largely attributed to clusters of unvaccinated people, including Trump-supporters ‘in denial’. A Georgetown University study reportedly found 30 clusters of counties, of which five are across the Southeast and Midwest, from Georgia to Texas, across Missouri, and parts of Oklahoma, Tennessee, Louisiana, Alabama and Arkansas, where the threat is real and looming large.

So how well is the Indian State with a new health minister at the helm prepared for the ‘third surge’, even as the second wave lingers on, and thousands care a damn in tourist spots, without masks or physical distancing?

Listen to the Covid Task Force head, Dr VK Paul, as reported by the Indian Express: “It is right that the graph (of the decline in the number of cases) has slowed down. It was earlier declining at a faster pace. It only shows that we cannot take the situation for granted. If it is around 35,000-37,000 cases per day, this is almost one-third the number of cases we saw during the first wave peak. The war is not over; the second wave is not over. It is perhaps more visible in some districts and two particular states and the Northeast, but it is still there. As long as this is still rising there, the nation is not safe…With a lot of effort and difficulty, we have reached a situation where cases are on the decline. The situation is bad only in a few districts. But all this can be snatched away from us because we have not contained the virus completely. If we give the virus an opportunity, and chains of transmission are launched…this is something we cannot afford…”

Indians banged thalis, frying pans, pressure cookers at 5 pm on March 22, 2021, following the call of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, even when the virus was just about spreading its wings. Indians followed dutifully with no questions asked, the sudden, draconian and unplanned lockdown last March, which led to the exodus of lakhs of migrant workers. Indians even believed the PM when he said that all will be well in 21 days.

ALSO READ: Virus Is There, Fear Is Gone 

Meanwhile, the states fought their own battles without any tangible help from the Center. Millions were rendered jobless, the poor were left to their helpless fate, the economy tanked and continues to tank, hunger, starvation, anxiety and depression stalked the unhappy landscape, there was ‘no vaccine policy’ worth its name, and people hoped against hope that 2021 will start with a flicker of hope. Remember the PM’s cathartic speech at the World Economic Forum’s Davos Dialogue in January 2021?

“Today, Covid cases are declining rapidly in India… India’s stats cannot be compared with one country as 18 per cent of the world’s population lives here and yet we not only solved our problems but also helped the world fight the pandemic… In these tough times, India has been undertaking its global responsibility from the beginning. When airspace was closed in many countries, India took more than 1 lakh citizens to their countries and delivered essential medicines to more than 150 countries…” 

Significantly, the PM said India’s role will increase with the rollout of more ‘Made in India’ Covid-19 vaccines. Clearly, this was chest-thumping in its most glorious form at the world stage.

Then arrived the deadly second surge, even as the PM and his Union home minster were obsessed with capturing Bengal at any cost, while welcoming millions at the super-spreader Kumbh. The PM was delighted to see huge crowds in one of his last rallies in Bengal. While sections of the stooge media played along, the international media published front page pictures of mass cremations, accompanied with highly critical text putting the entire blame on Modi. And they were on the spot, on the dot. Surely, the mass tragedy was a public spectacle for the world to see!

ALSO READ: Healthcare Cries For An Overhaul

Lest we forget, there were tens of thousands dying due to the acute scarcity of hospital beds, oxygen, life-saving drugs, with cremation and burial grounds unable to find space for the dead bodies, while parking lots, pavements, open spaces and public parks in some places were converted into cremation grounds. Some electric crematoriums refused to work because their ‘internal organs’ had melted due to the relentless heat, huge make-shift walls were created to block journalists to report on the relentless mass cremations (in Lucknow), and the data of deaths were allegedly fudged or censored, even while the obituary pages were full of tributes to the dead (as in Gujarat). 

So, is India prepared for the third wave?

On June 19, said Dr Randeep Guleria, Director, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi:  “We don’t seem to have learnt from what happened between the first and the second wave. Again crowds are building up… people are gathering. It will take some time for the number of cases to start rising at the national level. But it could happen within the next six to eight weeks… maybe a little longer.” He said that unless the population is vaccinated, the country will remain vulnerable in the coming months.

The Hindu reported in early May that that the principal scientific adviser to the government of India has warned that the third wave of Covid-19 is inevitable. “There is, however, no clear time-line on when this third phase will occur. We should be prepared for new waves, and Covid-appropriate behaviour and vaccine upgrades is the way forward,” he said.

Modi has made the promise on live television of total and free vaccination in India after June 21. Hoardings have come up with the PM’s mug shot profusely thanking him for free vaccines. If Rahul Gandhi as much as tweets: ‘July has come. Where are the vaccines?’ some central ministers suddenly emerge from the shadows and Rahul gets a good tongue-lashing.

The situation is as fuzzy as it gets. Noida apparently stopped vaccination from June 30 for a week – reasons not known. Gujarat suspended vaccination recently for unknown reasons – there were no vaccines, according to sources, it was reported. Vaccination was stopped in Mumbai due to lack of vaccines, but restarted again. Almost all the big states reportedly have vaccination shortfalls; Bihar has a shortfall of 71 per cent, while West Bengal, Jharkhand and UP are not far away. Even Kerala and Delhi, who have done the best, will not be able to achieve a 60 per cent target by December.

Is the current scenario optimistic? Not really.

Apparently, about 20 per cent plus have got their first dose, and 5 per cent plus have been fully vaccinated. Surely, at this rate, no one knows when a country of India’s size will ever get ‘fully vaccinated’. And the bitter truth is that less the level of vaccination in the population, the more there are fears of multiple mutations of this killer virus. India, therefore, is as vulnerable as ever.

‘My Child Is In Class 2; She Is Yet To See Her School’

Banti Kumari, 32, a homemaker in Ranchi, finds it bizarre that one full academic year has gone for her daughter but she is yet to know what primary school building or a classroom looks like

These are strange times! Because of the virus we are getting used to a life we had never imagined. My eight-year-old daughter Akshita Arya will remember her unusual educational history for sure. A student of Class II at Saint Michael’s, she has never seen her primary school building for a single day. And most probably she never will. Actually the different wings of Saint Michael’s are situated at different locations in Ranchi. So, for her pre-primary she went to one location and for her primary yet another (the current location). And once she passes Class 2, they will be moved to yet another building at a new location.

I feel sad that her foundational years of education are so wobbly; that there is so much confusion and no solution to the Covid crisis in sight. One year and people would have still managed, but two years of this is perhaps a lot.

Last year, after the pandemic was declared, the admission process took a lot of time as everyone was scrambling to put systems in place and make sense of the pandemic. Online classes started in earnest only in May, 2020. The interaction between parents and teachers has gone down drastically.

Earlier, we used to have parent-teacher meetings (PTMs) every month, but now at the most we call teachers for a few minutes if we have any query. I also miss the fact that my child used to feel like part of a huge, diverse team in school and her worldview was getting broader day by day, but now she is just confined to the house. They can’t even go and play outside.

Kumari rues that her daughter Akshita Arya (left) has not witnessed any extra-curricular school activity

Extra curricular activities at school would teach them that there is a world beyond books or in other words that learning in greater books, and we haven’t been able to compensate for that at home or in online classes.

I also miss her Physical Education (PE) Classes. She, like most kids, is a bundle of energy but during perpetually stretching lockdowns, her energy has been confined to the 4 walls of the house. Plus, she used to actively participate in her Annual Day and other important functions. The preparation process, the co-ordinating and bonding with others, gave her memories and a wonderful sense of identity. But for the past two years she hasn’t had any new memories. The virus has taken away two precious years of childhood memories.

ALSO READ: ‘Cancellation Of Board Exams Is A Relief’

I doubt the schools will reopen for kids this year, especially for kids as young as mine. So most probably she will see the face of her school building now only in Class 3. One of the things I used to love the most about her school was that they used to give these home link assignments (basically general knowledge assignments) that we as a family used to help her fill. Helping her prepare for her functions, assignments etc. used to be golden bonding time for us as a family, but the pandemic has changed everything.

From the school being a second home, the home has become the school and all lines have become blurred. However, I hope the air clears soon and we can go back to pre-corona times. My daughter keeps asking me: “Mumma ye corona kab khatm hoga? Main fir se kab school jaungi, kab apne friends se milungi?” I want to be able to give an answer to that to my daughter.

As Told To Yog Maya Singh

Coping With Indian Covid-19 Situation From Abroad

Chahat Awasthi, a journalism trainee at Cardiff University in UK, had many an anxious moment about her mother’s wellbeing as Covid-19 was wreaked havoc in India

“I’ll die if you fall sick,” said my mother two months back. I wanted to tell her the feeling is mutual. Instead, I said that I am fine and well-protected as some of my flatmates’ friends from college entered the common kitchen for a study session. In my defence, the UK has had zero Covid cases and the economy has been opening-up slowly. People are meeting each other with much abandon. I have no control over the government’s decisions.

That night the thought of losing my mother while I perish within the four walls of my student accommodation in a country that I have barely adjusted to gripped me.

It was a sleepless night but then it has been months worrying about India. My mum is a single parent and is currently living with my sister. I have been waiting for weeks to hear good news from the homeland. It did come, only later than most of us expected and later than can be forgiven or forgotten.

The country has lost too many loved ones. There looked what seemed like a lack of preparation for a situation like that. There was dearth of medical equipment. Rallies went on. Religious celebrations went on. But, sometimes life does not.

But at one point bodies were being found in Ganga, and there were lessons on positivity handed to people who blamed the government. A friend spoke of a hospital bill that was higher than it should be considering the death certificate showed time of death a day earlier. Bill included services and support not provided. I wondered if there is an end to grief and greed. Finding opportunity in adversity?

A file photo of senior Awasthi with her daughter Chahat

Mother is now in her 50s, a heart patient but fully vaccinated now. It happened before we entered the shortage phase. There is gratefulness but not with certain qualifications. The ‘what ifs continue.’ No one is invincible.

Meanwhile, here, I got my first shot. Mother-daughter sighed together on call that day.

But, from March to May, I have constantly stressed about the virus. There was begging involved, have asked friends to ensure she is ok, have asked them to ensure other friends are ok, have seen some lose their parents, some siblings, etc. Others battled mental health issues. I have been trenched in mine. So much guilt to wade through these as questions where does stress stand in the hierarchy of loss.

It comes as no surprise thus that the humiliation is not singular in its impact. There is the shame of not having had a loss, fear it might strike any day, and helplessness. What can I do to help? How can I make a contribution that counts? So, I made a video on how to spot fake news. I got 58 likes and 554 views. The problem persists.

Be positive, I have been told time and again, while my family back home spoke of who lost whom and I sat in my room with deadlines, thinking of unignorable inefficiency in the politics of hate and self-interest over that of the collective’s.

At least there is technology. A WhatsApp call once in the morning and once in the evening has been the order of the day. It helps my mother go by. She is counting the days for my return. I get it. Today, 23rd June is crossed in my calendar too.

‘India Must Vaccinate Vulnerable Sections On Priority’

Prof Jimmy Whitworth, a  member of the Scientific Advisory Committee for WHO’s R&D Blueprint for Action to Prevent Epidemics, has been at the helm of several global initiatives on public health research in low- and middle-income countries. An academic staff member at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, he has rich experience in devising strategy and policy on population health. In an emailed interview, Prof Whitworth spoke with LokMarg about the pandemic situation in India, what to expect in the foreseeable future and how India can tackle the situation.

India has witnessed a deadly second wave of the COVID pandemic that has left in its wake millions of people dying and many more battling with the infection. Although there has been a decline in cases, are there still risks of another wave?

The deadly second wave of COVID-19 in India is now thankfully receding. From a peak of 400,000 new cases a day in early May, there are now around 100,000 new cases per day. However, unless there are concerted efforts to control the epidemic, there are likely to be large waves in the future. These reported numbers of cases are likely to be severe underestimates of the true burden due to a backlog in reporting test results, poor access to testing and many people not being tested because of fear or stigma.

Do you think the Indian government’s decision or recommendation to increase the interval between the first and second doses will have an impact on its efficacy? Or is it, as many believe, an attempt to solve the demand and supply gap for vaccines?

The gap between first and second doses is of minor importance right now, getting vaccines in Indian arms as quickly as possible is the priority. Early on in the pandemic India provided vaccines and medicines for other countries. But now there is a shortage of vaccine supplies in India that is expected to last until July 2021.

The important actions now are to give priority to vaccinations for vulnerable populations, support state level estimates of demand, ensure a coordinated strategy between states and make sure there is an effective supply chain. This means national and state level negotiations are needed to procure vaccines urgently.  There also needs to be a negotiation of patent waivers and clearances for production of a broad set of vaccines with incentives and support for local manufacturers.

One of the variants of the virus in India is believed to be a mutation that is resistant to antidotes. How effective are the vaccines available now? Is there reason to believe that they are not effective against new variants of the COVID virus?

The current vaccines appear to be effective at preventing infection and disease of all of the new variants described so far, although there is some drop-off in effectiveness in protection against some of the strains. The vaccines are still valuable and one of the most important tools that we have to combat this terrible epidemic. Everyone should be encouraged to come forward for vaccination.

How do you think India can best handle the situation there in the context of lack of healthcare infrastructure and the sheer size of the population?

Despite the vast population and fragmented health system, India can control this epidemic. This needs political leadership, with good quality data for decision making. Transparency, public communication and engagement to ensure collective responsibility and action will be important. We need to enhance the ability of health services to respond by expanding the pool of trained, well-protected staff, establish dedicated well-equipped and safe COVID-19 facilities, use primary care for home care, and ensure sufficient medical supplies and oxygen. As well as the need for mass vaccination mentioned above, we need to scale up SARS-CoV-2 testing and expand decentralised contact tracing and isolation. International and domestic travel need to be reduced and made safe through testing and quarantine. Effective bans of gatherings of more than 12 people, closing venues and indoor public spaces and ensuring physical distancing, hand hygiene and mask-wearing will be important to prevent transmission of infection.

What does the future scenario look like? Would most of the world’s population have to live with the reality that the virus and its mutants will continue to be a threat in varying degrees for the foreseeable future?

The measures mentioned above will be sufficient to bring the epidemic under control, however it is likely that this virus will remain in the human population and cause outbreaks for years to come. We will need to adapt to become faster and more effective at controlling these waves of infection. This may need the development of new vaccines to combat variants that occur in the future.

‘Eager To Get The Vaccine & Reboot My Roster’

Nita Balmohan Rajesh (37), a Bengaluru-based HR professional, is hoping the age-bar for getting Covid vaccine to be lowered so she could safely step out of the virtual, closed-door world

My eight year old has a complaint: “It’s been 13 months sitting at home, Amma.”

My ten year old daughter chimes in: “It’s been the worst year ever, would you agree Amma?”

“Are you saying we can’t visit our cousins even this summer?” they both ask grumpily.

This is the new-found 2020 mode for my children: Sulk, even cry over the smallest of issues, yell at the sibling, take 45-50 minutes to finish a meal, and the worst, sneak more time on their personal laptops. Gone are the care-free days of playing in the park undeterred, getting a time-out for “pushing” a friend. “There are no friends in the park; who should we play with?” they complain and grudge about restricted hours for using iPads.

My husband, Rajesh, and I do feel guilty of this at times. Indeed, that one hour of screen time that we allow our children due to office engagements never ends as scheduled. “Another five mins please…”

Nita’s misses outings with family

How you wish to travel back in time to pre-March 2020! You woke up, readied the household for school and work, and went to office in person. What a feeling it now seems! Eight hours in a world away from the home. You actually MET people! You hugged some of them and shook hands with many of them. You solved business issues face-to-face and you could understand their speech coherently without the masks getting in the way.

You could see the entire human expression, the twitch in their lips when they disagreed; the eye roll when someone said something disagreeable; the nose turning slightly red when upset or angry. You didn’t have to plead them to turn on the video, or increase the volume. “Hello, can you hear me?” You were certain they heard you clear. You looked forward when the clock struck the hour to be back home. You enjoyed your favorite songs on the radio while cursing the reckless drivers on the road.

ALSO READ: ‘A Year Of Pandemic: Setback & Fightback’

You then came home looking forward to solve world peace-level problems. “Amma, Lalith wouldn’t speak to me today. He’s being best friends with Aditya. What do you think I should do?” Or “Amma, my skates don’t fit me anymore. How will I attend my skating classes tomorrow?” Just reminiscing those episodes brings a huge smile. No wonder we were physically healthier and mentally ‘less depressed’.

You didn’t have the luxury of snoozing your alarms, getting into conference calls un-showered or moving the breakfast hour. There was a purpose you woke up with to complete the 101 to-dos! You looked forward to your work-travel and then the vacation you did take.

Nita with her colleagues

The three things I miss a lot is the feeling of being in an aircraft, in a real office and dropping the kids in their school bus. Is there something wrong with me, I confessed to a friend, and we both laughed.

And the age-limit on being eligible for a vaccine certainly doesn’t make any of this remotely happen anytime soon. I do understand the demand-supply situation and completely support the fact that the older folks are at increased risk and should be prioritized. I am certain millions of us will be willing to pay a retail price to procure these vaccines and move on to our “normal” lives. Hope the 30-something aren’t asking for too much! Are we?

As Told To Mamta Sharma