After the national lockdown from 25th March, 2020 was announced in India a grocery supermarket in a particular locality of a major Indian city set a very good example of crowd control and health hygiene. Since it was the only reliable supermarket in a large area consisting of numerous high-rise housing societies there was a constant rush of customers at the store. Within a few days of lockdown the store introduced a novel token system: customers had to collect tokens in the morning, in a two-hour period from 7-9 am; every token had a time-slot embedded over it during which the token-holder could come, display the token and do the marketing; the slots allotted were of half-hour duration and within those half-hour periods maximum twenty customers were allowed in. Every customer had to compulsorily wear masks, undergo temperature checks and hand sanitization before entering the store. Everyone in the area hailed this exemplary move. The effects were strikingly visible, there being no rush of customers at the main gate of the campus at any point of time with strict discipline and order prevailing under the round-the-clock supervision by the store staff.
However, after a few days had passed, lapses started becoming increasingly visible. The overlap between the time-slots went on increasing as the customers, slotted for specific times, regularly arrived late, and insisted on being given entry, considering the efforts they had put in for that. The store staff could not afford to run roughshod over a large number of customers, and so they asked them to queue up for entry. Very often, there were serpentine queues in front of the main gate spilling over to the side lane. Up to a point social distancing was observed with circles marked out, but as the queues were very long most of the time there were more customers than the circles. To satisfy customers the store staff had to sacrifice their own norm of allowing twenty customers in a particular half-hour slot. This led to the inevitable: there happened constant crowding inside with the usual jostling and even pushing, trolleys and humans moving haywire.
This continued for around two months. As more and more relaxations were announced by the governments the token system was finally abandoned allowing customers freely anytime in the day. The exemplary ‘new normal’ was given up for the ‘normal’. A few discerning customers found the crowding inside too much and scary, and many of them decided not to visit the store anymore, depending fully on home deliveries. In the meantime, COVID cases in that locality started rising exponentially, and the authorities, soon afterwards, clamped down a three-week strict lockdown in that division not allowing even grocery stores to open.
Terrifying news hit several housing societies. More than ten people of nearby buildings were infected all of which were traced to the supermarket; and four of them died struggling against the virus for weeks in hospitals. All of the four dead were in prime health and aged below fifty years. Despite masks, temperature checks and hand hygiene at the store entrance the virus strain proved to be highly contagious and virulent causing tragic deaths that could have been avoided.
Although this is a locality-specific example, it is truly representative of the growing lax and complacent attitudes shown by the citizens in various regions across the globe as the fight against the killer virus completes more than six months. Buoyed by a rising recovery rate, a declining fatality rate and the fact that most of them still remain uninfected, the people stop following the norms strictly, assuming an attitude of complacency and carelessness only wanting desperately to go back to the old lovable normalcy. They continuously ignore and wave aside the warnings and advisories that COVID-19 is going to stay with us for an indefinite period and that repeated regimes of lockdowns are neither feasible nor solutions. They also do not realize the fact that governments alone cannot save them from the virus and that their cooperation is crucial in the fight against the virus.
Recently the World Health Organization (WHO) warned all nations and citizens against a possible ‘response fatigue’ which is extremely significant in this context. The governments and the citizens must never tire of carrying on the protective fight; they must understand that the fight is set to be a long one, and the best course would be to adapt to the new normal as quickly and effectively as possible. All the innovative and good examples must not be allowed to wane and go waste; on the contrary, these must be replenished with more and more initiatives.