Nearly six months into the pandemic, it appears governments across the world have given up on fighting the virus through isolation. Schools in the United States have thrown their doors open to students, and here at home – which has the dubious distinction of the fastest-growing rate of infection – the government has decided to throw open the doors of malls (but not cinemas) and the metro (but not suburban trains).
We have spent most of the last six months complaining about how difficult it is to wear masks all day – and found a workaround by wearing them as scarves – and how paranoid the government is (when paranoia at the right time could actually have spared us both the rapid spread of the infection and the rapid decline of the economy).
But now, it is no longer about fines and arguing with the police and whining about the government.
Clearly, the virus has not weakened in its potency. People – including the rich and famous – continue to fall gravely ill and even succumb to Covid.
Most of us are being hit closer and closer home, with friends and relatives and relatives of friends falling ill.
Under the circumstances, we can no longer expect the government to take responsibility to safeguard us. Governments across the world left it too late, China – never the best communicator – was tight-lipped about the virus, and no one quite knows how it will behave or whether an effective vaccine will ever be found. Claims that we are on the verge of a breakthrough have been made for months now, and we continue to live on the edge.
It won’t be long before sports matches and tournaments are opened to the public, because the big sponsors and the stadiums and the governing bodies are not making much money without gate collections and breathless media coverage.
Airports are already allowing more flights to take off and land, and soon we will have the paparazzi trying to ensure we don’t find out about the conception of another celebrity baby through Instagram, scouring arrivals and departures for baby bumps.
One of India’s biggest money-churning industries – film – has suffered without box office collections for the best part of a year.
Even as shoots resume, producers will be doing their best to get cinemas opened to the public.
The problem, however, is that the public assumes that once an activity is permitted, it is safe.
Our paranoia has been taking the exact opposite course to what it should have. Before we knew a thing, before the pandemic had exploded in India, we were terrified of stepping out of our homes. And now, people have either been sighing that we are all going to get Covid after all and we must learn to live with it, and the show does have to go on.
Except, the show is not very pretty from behind a ventilator. With the virus showing no signs of weakening, the infection is no less dangerous now than it was when it first appeared. Worse, its long-term effects are yet to be assessed. This is not a common cold, and it will never be as harmless.
The other group, of course, believes that masks are an encumbrance and that one’s intake of vitamins is the equivalent of the cross in a horror movie. They are not susceptible to Covid, they firmly believe, and they are offended at the notion that they may be suspected of spreading it because they are so very hygienic.
This is the group that has begun to wear its masks like neck-scarves, or to use them simply to cover the mouth while leaving the nostrils wide open.
Will we learn that wearing masks are not about avoiding fines from the police, but a safety measure? And that – unlike helmets – this safety measure is necessary not only to protect ourselves, but those around us?
Will we stop pressing ourselves against the passengers before us the moment a flight lands, and elbowing people out of the way as we grab our bags?
Will we learn not to cough into people’s faces or spit on the roads?
Because this is no longer the government’s problem. Soon, the only thing that will remain to be unlocked is the annoying Covid awareness message that delays the dialling of every number by about a minute, and unless we behave responsibly towards ourselves and each other, it will be a very long time before India is Covid-free.
More Columns by Nandini Krishnan:
Nobel for economist, tailspin for economy
Why the Diaspora has so much love to give
Hindi debate: We are all obsessed with homogeneity
We are choking the earth
The delusionary Indian intellectual
India's culture of worship has to end
Nandini is the author of Invisible Men: Inside India's Transmasculine Networks (2018) and Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage (2013). She tweets @k_nandini. Her website is: www.nandinikrishnan.com