The Covid-19 pandemic has left no country untouched. The disease knows no borders. It does not care about our political differences, and it disregards the distinction we draw between health and economy, life and livelihood. The pandemic has disrupted them all – Dr Tedros Adhanom, Director-General of WHO
By Irabanta Kshetrimayum
From 2019 onwards, the whole world has been facing the wrath of the Covid-19 pandemic. With its widespread transmission, it has now engulfed our entire nation. Every sector of the country is facing a major crisis. And one of the worst-hit sectors is the education sector. As a part of the nation, Manipur is also facing this global health crisis with a steep increase in infection rate.
What is Covid-19 Pandemic and how does it spread in Manipur?
Covid-19 Pandemic is a global health crisis. It is considered the greatest challenge the world is currently facing. The pandemic is caused by the Novel Coronavirus (CoV), a new strain of coronavirus. The disease caused by the virus was first identified in Wuhan, China. It has been named Coronavirus disease 2019 or Covid-19— CO stands for corona, VI for virus, and D for disease. The virus is transmitted through direct, indirect, or close contact with infected secretions such as saliva and respiratory secretions. It enters the human body through the eyes, nose, or mouth. The virus has been spreading fast all over the globe, causing severe hardship to mankind, adversely affecting the health and socio-economic conditions of all nations.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been affecting our state severely since March 2020. The first Covid-19 positive case in Manipur was confirmed on March 24, 2020. Since then, there has been a steep rise in the infection rate. The condition was worsened by the relaxation of travel restrictions that allowed students and people staying outside the state to return home. It caused an increase in Covid-19 positive cases. However, the real cause for the mass community transmission is ignorance, carelessness, and neglect of Standard Operation Procedures (SOP). For instance, clandestine gatherings were continued despite the imposition of total lockdown and curfews. Though the lockdown was effective on marketplaces and big stores in and around the main road, many local shops and liquor vendors were opened. Many indulged in crowded gambling, playing cards, and feasting. Strikes, bandhs, and protests were continued, e.g., demonstration on the issues MNREGA and farm bills. All these defied the SOPs. The blame must be on the government as well. The imposition of lockdown was not balanced with the supply of essential food items to stay at home. Many were left with the option to either die due to starvation or by the virus. Quarantine centres were poorly maintained. There is a lack of supply of personal protection equipment. It led to the infection of medical staff. All these factors contributed to the spread of the disease in Manipur.
How does it affect the people?
The Covid-19 pandemic affects all walks of life and every aspect of society. The pandemic and the lockdown have disrupted all the essential activities required to run a society, including the economy, social, health, and education sectors.
In the health sector, infected and non-infected people suffer immense hardship. Before admitting to a hospital for any treatment, a person needs a Covid-19 test, which automatically delayed the treatment process. As a result, there is a risk of fatality in emergency cases. In addition, covid-19 patients suffer to a greater extent. While in treatment, they are left with the question of making out alive or not. And since they are not allowed to meet anyone while in quarantine or isolation centres, they suffered from depression. Moreover, most isolation wards and quarantine centres are not equipped with proper infrastructures, medicines, and medical staff. The lack of emergency ambulance service is often reported, increasing the risk for infected people.
The pandemic is also causing a huge psychological problem to many. Worries and concerns among the people, especially the aged and people with health problems, are increasing. In addition, social distancing and lockdown have cut off social interactions making many into isolation. All these make most people lonely and depressed.
However, the negative repercussion is more significant on the economic sphere, particularly the economically backward sections that receive the greatest blow. During the lockdown, daily wage earners have been utterly devasted. Street vendors, cultivators, daily wage earners, and private employees found themselves totally trapped into economic miseries with no way to recover. They became highly vulnerable. In such a context, if someone in the family has fallen sick, they could not afford medical treatment. Many of them had to remain watching their family members dying without adequate medical treatment. As a result, the economic gap between the regular income groups such as the government employees and the vulnerable sections became wider.
How are the responses by the government and others to the pandemic?
As soon as the first Covid-19 positive case was reported in Manipur, the state government imposed lockdown and restricted all activities. It set up quarantine and isolation centres in different parts of the state. It announces awareness and preventive measures from time to time. The police played important roles in enforcing lockdown and SOPs.
The government recently took up some important measures. On May 23, 2021, it permitted the use of CMHT and PM-JAY for Covid-19 treatment. It also announced to bear the expenses of cremation charges of Covid-19 victims. But the responses of the government are very slow and too late. Many felt that the government’s responses are inadequate. There are also many loopholes in the initiatives. For instance, since the rationing of food was too meagre, many are forced to defy lockdown to engage in earning.
A wide gap between the extremity of the pandemic and the response of the government is revealing. There are many deficiencies. While many are facing economic hardships, there are profiteers taking advantage of the situation. For instance, private hospitals seem to be taking advantage of the pandemic. The government’s price regulation to reduce exorbitant charges has not been followed by private hospitals. Government notices failed to mitigate the price of vital medicines, costs of private ambulance services, etc. Meanwhile, the shortage of oxygen cylinders, ventilators, and hospital berth increase the risk of the health crisis.
It seems the state’s executives, particularly the bureaucrats in the administration, health, and social welfare, are lacking seriousness. They seemed to be more concerned about the daily publication of the statistics of infection, recovery, and death instead of giving proper advice to the government to address the grievances and urgent needs of the people. While adequate supports are not coming, their data creates more panic and frustration among the public. There seems to be a wide gap between governance and public needs.
In this scenario, communities, CSOs, local clubs, and volunteers play important roles in providing public help or awareness. For instance, on some occasions, villagers from the hill districts gathered agricultural products and distributed them to the needy people in the valley. Organizations and individuals donated foods, personal protection equipment, and fund. Local clubs and volunteers assisted the police in enforcing lockdown and reliefs. However, such voluntary works were considerably minimum during the Covid 2nd wave.
How does it affect the students in Manipur?
The education sector receives an adverse blow from the pandemic. The government has shut down educational institutions for more than a year. This has left the students completely disorganized and largely irresponsible. Most of the students are now in a situation where they have no institutional assignment to perform. They have been cut off from classroom and outdoor socialization. As a result, their skills have been underperforming. Their learning process has been greatly paralyzed. Physical interaction with friends and relatives has been restrained. As a result, many students and youths are suffering from psychological depression. Among them, college and university students are the most affected sections. They have developed psychological stress as they overthink with fear of their academic career and future uncertainty. Many youths have also lost contract jobs, thereby adding to their anxiety.
To deal with the situation, many educational institutions have switched over to online or virtual classes. This automatically means allowing mobile phone access to young children as well. In this regard, one must thoroughly study the pros and cons of online classes. There are benefits of online classes. There are also harmful effects of the prolonged use of bright display screens. On the other hand, online classes have been a burden to poor students. As we can understand, the pandemic and lockdown have badly affected the lower-income groups. Many low-income families cannot afford two meals a day. How could they afford smartphones for their children to continue learning? Online classes, therefore, have created a technological divide between the haves and have nots. It meant poor students could not learn while the wealthy students would continue with e-learning. While a student from an economically prosperous family continues his study from the comfort of his home, a poor student has to help his parents for the income of daily living amidst the pandemic.
What needs to be done by and for the students?
Keeping in view of the challenges faced by all the students in general and poorer students in specific, a lot is needed to be done by the student community themselves and by others. As the future pillars of the state and the nation, they have to face the pandemic while continuing with learning in any possible way. They should invest at least a few hours in study and keep themselves physically and mentally fit. While primary students need to be taken care of by their parents, secondary and higher studies should engage a lot in self-studies.
Those fortunate enough to have the technology for continued learning should focus on online classes and continue studying. They should gather information and study materials and be ready to help their colleagues. Many problems are faced by the poor students who cannot afford the technology to continue learning. Their situation and hardship should be highlighted to the government for support. They should keep in contact with teachers and those who can help them.
Government, parents, and educational institutes and departments should also act for the welfare of the students. Private schools, which are in high demand in Manipur, should regulate fees keeping in view the economic hardship faced by the students. There should be minimum fees for economically impoverished students. Admission to schools and colleges should be mandatory to give a sense of security to students in their educational future. Online classes should be conducted regularly. Both students and teachers should be trained to attend or conduct online classes. The revised syllabus should be provided for all classes. Parents should encourage and support their children to focus more on the study.
The government should take up pro-active roles for the students. Fees of all private institutes should be fixed and the huge amount charged should be curbed. Special programs should be taken up for poor students by finding a way to provide basic technologies for continued learning. Moreover, the government should absorb students who have returned home due to the pandemic. Since the youth and students are the future pillars, the government must invest in their education and health.
The virus cannot be completely wiped out in the near future. We are destined to live with it. The question is how to live with it and how to handle it. Everyone, from the government to individuals, is equally responsible for keeping the virus under control. While the government and health departments must take up effective initiatives, CSOs and individuals should contribute as much as possible. As WHO advises: first, prepare and be ready; second, detect, protect and treat; third, reduce transmission, and; fourth, innovate and learn. The message is simple. Practice social distancing and maintain proper hygiene. Though the older population is more vulnerable, the younger population is not invincible. However, the pandemic’s social, economic, and political devastation will leave a deep and long-lasting scar all over the nation.
(Irabanta Kshetrimayum, son of Khamba Kshetrimayum and Memi Kshetrimayum, of Sagolband Tera Loukrakpam Leikai, is a student of B.A. 5th Semester, D.M. College of Arts. This essay was an entry in the competition organised by the Campaign for Peace & Democracy (Manipur) with the support of KanglaOnline, Yaol Publishing (London), journal Beyond the Horizon, and Gateway Trading Academy Imphal.)Manipur, Covid 19 pandemic