By Gyan Pathak
The surge in C0VID-19 infections and the resulting deaths in India is frightening enough to make the people apprehensive about fresh lockdowns. Stringent measures and local lockdowns are already being used in many infected areas in several states, and the centre has already given directions for lockdowns in larger areas if required. Maharashtra, the worst affected state during the present wave, has declared that ‘lockdown is an option’ and Punjab has said that the state would use this option if situation does not improve within a week. Since the centre has declared ‘India at risk’ going from ‘bad to worse’ the prospect of ‘lockdown’ seems to be real, which is frightening the people more than the wave of infection itself.
Lockdown therefore must be discussed in its all dimensions, its pros and cons, and its desirability at the present situation, which is entirely different from March 24, 2020, the day when it was announced first in India. The first logic in support of the lockdown was given that Indian health infrastructure was not ready to handle large number of infected people. India required time to prepares itself in terms of the health infrastructure, temporary hospitals, beds with or without oxygen for infected patients needing hospitalization, ICUs, oxygen cylinders, availability of medicines that were to be used in emergency cases, and trained health workers in large numbers.
In that backdrop India needed lockdown urgently because we feared overwhelming of our health facilities. The lockdown gave us time and every state in the country improved its health infrastructure to deal with the new situation. We have better health facilities now, and people are being given health services in private hospitals too. Additionally, we have deployed two vaccines into service. Therefore the first logic does not hold good now, and therefore that level of lockdown is not at all required in the country.
If it is the case, why our authorities have been talking about possible overwhelming of the healthcare system of the country? The answer to this question is that the level of facilities India seems to require now is not available to the people. There have been many lapses. The facilities that India had created between March 24, 2020 and September 16, 2020, during which number of infection rose from about 56 to its peak at 97,860, were not maintained thereafter
. The preparedness suffered in all over India because people began to feel that the country has finally reigned in the covid-virus. It was based on the falling data of infection, which touched its lowest level on February 1, 2021, when it was at just 8,579. Government was also affected by this common man’s perception which was false. How government faltered is also reflected in the data. At the highest level of infection in September, 2020, government was testing 1.49 million tests daily, which fell to merely 486,122 in mid-February. This example should suffice the government callousness in other respects of preparedness and actions too.
Government wanted to take credit more than they deserved for their work. They not only relaxed themselves but also allowed the people to violate covid-appropriate behaviour and guidelines suggested by the experts. Large gatherings were allowed and no actions were being taken for violation of guidelines. Even the institutions, given permission for reopening, were reopened and very few of them followed the appropriate guidelines. No action was taken against majority of violators, and even officials and political leaders in the help of affairs were found involved in the large political and non-political gatherings violating all norms. It resulted into sharp rise from the lowest 8,579 daily on February 1, 2021 to 89,129 by the morning of April 3, 2021. Now the government and the people, who are responsible for dragging the country into this worst condition are showing signs of panic, which cannot be termed appropriate. It is clear that the governments do not want to work hard, they just want as easy escape route at the cost of the livelihood of the people which ultimately costs lives which they claim to save by lockdowns.
We have now sufficient experience about the pitfalls of the general lockdown which halted the economic wheel of the country on March 24, 2020. Unprecedented economic hardship followed. Millions of enterprises, business, and institutions shut down were still struggling to survive and reopen. Millions of them have no chance to reopen. Millions of jobs were lost, and a large number of them could never return to their jobs. Social security system is not there for majority of the people. The tragic life of the people are not conceivable by the persons who had never experienced undergoing such conditions. Therefore, their big words loose all meaning at this level of tragic life. If government resorts again to general “lockdown”, it would break the demand and supply chain, and all the efforts for recovery of the economy would be lost. Such a lockdown would be only all devastating panic reaction.
The present strategy of the local lockdown still seems to be better option. India and all the states should investigate the reasons of the present rising of the infections. If lockdown as an instrument of containment measures is not working now, what is the guarantee that it would work in the future? We must identify the factors that are responsible for failure of even local lockdowns, curfews, and other containment measures. Government has admitted that 80 per cent of the present spikes are due to non observance of covid-appropriate behaviour. If it is true why is it not enforced by the state if people are not following the advisories, in market places, in institutions, in public gatherings etc? It must be enforced irrespective of power and position of the violators.
The centre has already aired its fear that the new wave could overwhelm our present healthcare facilities. In such a case, government must enhance the healthcare system immediately. The increasing rate of positivity and death rate can be tamed only by doing this even is case of local, larger, or general lockdowns. Healthcare workers, beds with or without oxygen, supply of oxygen, ICUs, everything needs immediate strengthening.
The very slow pace of vaccination should be augmented and there should be hundred per cent coverage in and around infected zones. As for new covid stain government and the people need to be extra vigilant. We should not panic because we need more data to be sure if the variants of concerns or double mutants could actually escape immunity. We should not lockdown all economic activities, but should regulate them with more stringent measures relating to covid appropriate behaviour. Gatherings of all kinds must also be regulated with stringent measures. We can go for smart lockdowns only. (IPA Service)