Editorial: Infodemic, a new challenge during pandemic
One of the most troubling aspects of travelling during the pandemic has been the absence of credible information about passenger movement, and a single touchpoint that offered a ready reckoner for those keen on making their arduous journeys.
Travel plans of several citizens across the nation went up in the air, post the announcement of the lockdown. Over the past few weeks, the Chennai international airport’s Twitter handle had been flooded with queries from travellers who were flummoxed about the manner of continuing their journeys – with many of them flying to international destinations as well. With protocols concerning quarantine being updated by the hour, every hour, uncertainty has been a constant companion to those who have been forced to travel during the lockdown.
What many witnessed during this transition to Unlock 2.0 (or Lockdown 5.0 in Chennai) was the slipshod way in which information was exchanged between various state and central agencies forcing travellers to rely on luck and a prayer, instead of a verified and authentic source of information. Many airline operators made the most of the ambiguity surrounding flights to and from red zones, allowing passengers to book tickets for flights that wouldn’t take off for weeks together. And they choose to maintain an inexplicable stance of silence even as cancellations and shell accounts kept piling up. And yet again, clear and legible communication was the casualty amid this chaos. In the case of Chennai, which is a key travel hub for many international flights, the extended lockdown was made even more troublesome when the Chief Minister first said that the ‘tentative lockdown’ was a rumour, only to backtrack on his statement and announce an ‘intense lockdown’.
It is but obvious that four months into the pandemic, India does not have a single nodal agency that can serve as a repository of real-time information pertaining to all things to do with this health emergency. A unified database depicting the state-wise distribution of COVID statistics, hospitals, test-centres, emergency amenities, quarantine facilities, transport information, lockdown norms, and more, is an absolute must in these information-overloaded times. Those in charge of the Indian government’s IT infrastructure must fire on all cylinders to ensure that information about the different rules to be adhered, must be made available in a common database on priority. And the private sector, especially commercial carriers, cannot be left guessing about when to open bookings and when to cancel flights.
The unrelenting assault of the pandemic has brought into sharp focus our dependency on social media and websites for day-to-day sustenance. As India blazes past the 4.2 lakh mark in the COVID-19 count, there will be an additional strain born by resources of all kinds – that of timely dissemination of information – from healthcare facilities to transport networks, to urban infrastructure, government services and more. In the backdrop of our present understanding of the coronavirus crisis, a concentrated and unified effort involving both the public and private sector must be made – to give data its due; and making it available to those who need it the most. Arming oneself with the right information will be essential in fighting the pandemic, else we will be left with a bigger problem – an ensuing infodemic.