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When India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the nation live on COVID-19, many expected him to talk of measures planned to both counter coronavirus, and its effect on the economy. The PM instead focused on the social aspect of the virus, calling for gratitude towards those at the frontline of this fight and a day of voluntary lockdown.
While criticisms have been laid on the PM for the address, perhaps what is needed is a step by step approach – first a day’s lockdown and then a longer one - rather than a sudden shock. And perhaps there is time for that, as the fewer number of cases in the country seem to suggest that. But that will change, very fast, very soon as the number of tests is ramped up in the country.
Data of the spread of the virus globally indicate that the measures already implemented in the country – sealing its borders, stopping international flights, calling for cooperation and volunteering a small kitty with SAARC nations – will no longer be effective as the virus is slated to go into stage 3 - community transmission, mode soon.
It is then, that the PM and GoI will have to ramp up its response to the pandemic. Since the possibility of that happening within weeks is high, here’s a list of the measures leaders of other nations have announced recently from which GoI can take inspiration from.
Angela Merkel - Chancellor, Germany: Ph.D in quantum chemistry, Chancellor Angela Merkel is widely acknowledged as the leader of the ‘free world’. With poise and no-nonsense statesmanship, she has led both her country and the European Union through some tough times in the last two decades. Her address to the nation – the first unscheduled address directly to the nation in her 15-year leadership of Germany, showed ample proof of the same as she promised transparency in governance and full support of the establishment in every walk of German life.
However, what is winning the chancellor almost universal praise, is the unemotional way in which she states hard facts. During a press conference announcing the closure of all public gatherings, she didn’t bat an eyelid when along with bars, clubs, museums, exhibitions, gyms, playgrounds etc. she also mentioned brothels.
She also stunned her own colleagues in parliament when she said that up to 70% Germans might be infected with the virus over time, while also stating that it was not something that couldn’t be coped with if they took necessary precautions. She has announced a slew of measures like liquidity assistance of almost unlimited cash for companies affected by the severe credit crunch of recession, pledged €1 billion ($1.1 billion) to tackling COVID-19 even as her government spends 50 million Euros on dozens of charter flights to bring Germans back home.
During her address, Merkel said: “The situation is serious. Take it seriously. Since German unification, no, since the Second World War, there has been no challenge to our nation that has demanded such a degree of common and united action.” You can say the same about the world.
Emmanuel Macron - President, France: President Macron’s address to the nation on March 16 was as long as PM Modi’s and like the Indian leader, he also praised the grassroots worker. He went on to call it a war against a virus. One of the most important takeaway from his address was him saying that “No business whatsoever its size will face risk of bankruptcy,” and backing that up with state guarantees for bank loans to companies to the tune of €300bn.
Boris Johnson - Prime Minister, United Kingdom: British PM Boris Johnson, flanked by his Chief Scientific Advisor and Chief Medical Advisor, said on March 13 that his country was moving to ‘delay’ the outbreak stating that their nation was facing the ‘worst public health crisis for a generation’ and that people should be ready ‘to lose loved ones before their time’.
Despite this, the PM refused to initiate the tough lockdown measures required to curb the spread of the virus. After being criticized though, he ramped up his rhetoric on the fight against the virus setting out “drastic action” needed by everyone to fight the virus.
The PM told reporters on the 18th, “We can turn the tide within the next 12 weeks and I’m absolutely confident that we can send coronavirus packing in this country but only if we take the steps — we all take the steps — that we have outlined.” However, without tough measures like closing public places, everyone has been wondering if that will ever work.
Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister, Canada: Canadian PM Justin Trudeau is in a position no world leader envies. His wife Sophie, tested positive for COVID-19 and the PM is himself in self-isolation. Despite this, on March 16 he announced a slew of measures to combat the virus including making “$10 billion available in additional support for Canadian businesses”.
He struck the right note when he said that he has been “in constant communication with the provinces and territories, so that there are no barriers between our jurisdictions during this critical time” and that “I spoke to premiers about the billion-dollar COVID-19 response fund our government has put in place, which includes support for provinces and territories and their healthcare systems, so hospitals can prepare.” He thanked those regions that have been taking aggressive measures.
He went on to add that “the COVID-19 response fund also includes support for indigenous communities. On Friday, I spoke with First Nations, Inuit, and Metis Nation leaders to discuss the work we’re doing together on preparedness and mitigation efforts.”
Two days later on March 18 though, the PM went many steps further when he unveiled a sweeping emergency-aid package that would touch almost every Canadian. His stimulus package includes $27-billion in emergency aid for workers and businesses, and $55-billion in tax deferrals meant to put billions into businesses to help with their cash flow and help them keep workers on the payroll.
“There are many families across this country who are looking at their sources of income drying up because of COVID-19,” PM Trudeau said. “Many workers do not qualify for EI (Employment Insurance). Therefore, we are putting in place exceptional measures that will flow money to them every two weeks.”
Donald Trump - President, USA: US President Trump has had a sketchy relationship with his response to coronavirus, first suggesting three weeks ago that the virus “could maybe go away” without a huge impact on the nation and only recently changing track on the subject as the number of cases in the country kept rising and the stock market kept falling.
However, when he did change his response, he put a legislative proposal before Congress of a $1 trillion economic response package stating, “It's going to be big and it's going to be bold." The proposal also potentially includes $1,000 checks to be handed out to Americans.
“I think we’re going to do something that gets money to them as quickly as possible. That may not be an accurate way of doing it because obviously some people shouldn't be getting checks for $1,000. But we'll have a pretty good idea by the end of the day what we’re going to be doing,” Trump said.
As the COVID-19 crisis intensifies, India – along with the world - will have to pull out all stops to somehow stem the spread of the virus. What will help in this fight is cooperation. And one place where democratic governments across the world can start is by looking at what other governments are doing and copying the best out of that.
(Satyen K Bordoloi is a scriptwriter, journalist based in Mumbai. His written words have appeared in many Indian and foreign publications.)