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It would be an understatement to say that India is not prepared for the Third Wave of Covid infections, caused by the Omicron variant. On paper, both the central and state governments say that they are well prepared. However, much like the brutal Second Wave that caught the nation off guard, the Third Wave would arrives at a time when the country is in the midst of madness and mayhem. With its political elite caught up in campaigning for the next round of the elections in various states, which looks unlikely to be postponed, the chances of super spreaders in the form of election rallies and door to door campaigns remains high. Moreover, the images of people thronging markets and flocking to large gatherings, raises fears about spread of the virus. That too, when the Omicron variant eludes antibodies due to vaccinations, which renders any gains from them useless and leads to breakthrough infections.
We have not addressed the fault lines that were laid bare during the Second Wave, thereby risking more chaos and confusion all round, when the almost upon us Third Wave is likely to pile on more misery on the populace. Moreover, the way in which the governments at the central and state level were locking down and unlocking without a concrete plan is testament to the haphazard approach typical to many nations worldwide, India included. Of course, there has been some groundwork after the Second Wave which resulted in improvements in healthcare infrastructure and ramping up of hospital bed (ICU and Oxygenated) capacity, which is laudable, yet, prompts the question: Will this be enough? Indeed, Covid waves continue to catch nations by surprise and this is the reason, I feel that despite our preparations, it is anybody’s guess as to how the Third Wave would turn out to be.
As the title of this post indicates, in some ways, we are bringing (or have already brought) on the Third Wave upon ourselves. For instance, the casual and insouciant approach to Covid appropriate behavior means that chances of the Omicron variant spreading are really high. Moreover, with dilly dallying around booster shots and deciding on the vaccine mix that needs to be administered, there are chances of the teens and the retirees alike being impacted by the Omicron variant. This, at a time when the schools have barely resumed offline classes, which means that further pain on children is inevitable. Not only are we risking a lost generation of learners, we are also paving the way for the anticipated pediatric infections from the Third Wave. No wonder both the WHO (World Health Organization) and the Surgeon General in the United States, have called for more action on minimizing the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of those under 18.
All this makes me feel as though we will never return to normal, and if, the Omicron is the last mutation, or the reported next variant is already on its way. In a way, the pandemic has ended our “sense of certainty” and familiarity about how we should order our lives. With so much flux and fear, it is impossible to plan for anything, right from weddings to weekend getaways, more so, with all the travel restrictions and sudden changes in rules. There is nothing normal anymore and it sure feels like this is the end of the world as we have known it. Life in the post pandemic age would never be the same as it was before and as we all go through the day feeling weird, the weirdness of everyday existence becomes the norm.
However, we can limit the damage and contain the outbreak from the Omicron variant and ensure that the Third Wave is managed. Otherwise, we risk chaos and implosion, which in a country like India, are just one trigger or catalyst away. There is a way to prevent anarchy, so evident during the Second Wave, by proper coordination and communication between the different stakeholders. With religious tensions at an all time high, the last thing we need is a health emergency that can easily morph into a social and societal crisis, in turn triggering violence and mayhem all round. There is a responsibility on all of us to maintain restraint and follow rules, as the alternative is descent into madness. The pandemic blues should not blind us to what needs to be done to ensure order and stability and hence, it is incumbent upon all of us to resist communal, ethnic, linguistic, and chauvinistic polarization.
Last, as the New Year 2022 dawns, my “prediction” is that the coming year would be as bad or worse than 2021 and hence, Indians need to temper their expectations on what to expect from 2022. Indeed, the Omicron variant could well be the “last straw” that breaks us and let us all hope that it turns out to be mild and manageable.
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