It was during the time of the US President’s India visit, the German media and my social media newsfeed were rife with news and awareness campaigns about Coronavirus. Not that they did not know about corona but with the two world leaders hugging, the virus was the last thing most Indian media wanted to talk about.
The first case of Corona in Germany was recorded on January 28th. Proactive measures taken by the authorities kept the number of cases contained until it finally exploded towards the end of February. As the numbers grew in Germany and around, in Italy, Spain and France, the Government slowly made policies requesting major events and public places to close down. Saxony-Anhalt, the state where I live, was the last to register the first case of Corona. Naturally, it didn’t feel like an immediate threat till suddenly there were a few cases. The next day, WHO declared it as a pandemic, and the day after that, the local state government closed down the university and advised social isolation. We obliged.
Reading the news is one of the earliest habits I was made to develop. It remains when I’m in my early thirties – about four and a half thousand miles away from Calcutta, studying a fancy masters course at a German university. While sipping my morning tea, the news creates a world I would like to imagine, believe and live in. Especially when in isolation during the COVID-19 times.
We are a democracy. We thrive not because we are forced to do something, but because we share knowledge and encourage active participation. This is a historic task, and it can only be mastered if we face it together.Angela Merkel (link)
While the number of cases was rising exponentially in different parts of Germany, the government continued with its resolve of not imposing a country-wide lockdown. However, with the number of cases rising, it closed the borders with the neighbours. Locked down the states of Bavaria and Saarland. Further, it put restrictions on movement in groups of more than two and requested non-essential shops to stay/remain closed. To this day, the medical shops, supermarkets are open. As I write this today, there are over one lakh twenty-five cases and over three thousand deaths in Germany.
Things were evolving differently in India. In parts of Bengal, there were hints that the virus might spread. Italian, Thai, Australian, Malaysian tourists tested Covid19-positive in Mayapur and a Saudi returnee died of suspected COVID-19 symptoms in Murshidabad. It got me worried because I have my parents, both senior citizens in Calcutta. While my logical self wished the politicians spoke about ramping up infrastructure and announcing policies to face the pandemic, my other self kept secretly praying for their well-being. While the first address of the Indian Prime Minister wasn’t very reassuring, the country eventually went to a lockdown on a four-hour notice. The State Government of Bengal showed some promise. As I write this, I know that vegetable vendors come to my neighbourhood every alternate day and my parents have stock. India now has over nine thousand registered cases with over three hundred officially dead.
As an Indian student in Germany, I can not but notice the difference in which the two countries have approached the pandemic; something which I find is hardly discussed. While both countries registered their first cases at around the same time, Germany resorted to awareness campaigns almost immediately while India was busy welcoming Trump and discussing Delhi riots.
Germany had a structured approach where they carried out awareness campaigns first, followed by relief measures like 50B Euros for small businesses, freelancers and artists, an additional 1.1 Trillion Euros for other businesses. Now five lakh tests are being done in a week and by the end of this month, two lakh tests would be done in a day. Not all people abide by the guidelines but still, a majority of people contacted by the University of Mannheim for a survey expressed that they do not support action as harsh as a complete lockdown. As I write this, a sufficient amount of tests have not been done in India, yet.
Merkel took the pragmatic approach and mentioned that a majority of the population would contract the virus. In a nation like India, it was assumed this approach would not work. Modi tried to engage the audience and keep their morale boosted with simple tasks like clapping at 5 pm for 5 minutes or light a candle for 9 minutes after 9 pm; small exercises to keep the nation together. Germany chose to appeal to the logic in people, India chose to appeal to the emotions. There have always been issues where just emotions were invoked instead of general sense and we saw how specific sections in the Indian society organised a cow-urine party, came out in numbers flouting social distancing guidelines to clang any two objects they could lay their hands on, to the extent of giving communal angle to certain incidents. Unfortunate that it happened, but it’s a part of the package that the human society is. I’m sure a few things could have been avoided, like the death of the migrant workers while they tried going back to their homes. Everything in that episode, from their queueing up for a bus or walking back home to either dying on the road or being disinfected, hurt me somewhere very deep inside, especially when I am used to seeing people irrespective of their profession here, leading a dignified life, their children getting an education at par with the rest. Incidents like this, highlight the differences between the cultures pretty harshly.
We might never wish to compare these vastly different countries but what’s similar and inspiring is how people have gone ahead of themselves in these trying times; not just doctors, nurses, sanitation workers but others who are volunteering in different organisations. We can only pray that the number of corona-patients, saturates some time soon and normal life, as we know it, is restored. These COVID times, however, have important lessons to teach.
- Aniesha Brahma for proof-reading this article.
- Indranil Maji for discussing this before I made the draft.