Curfew in Delhi after phased reopening was a tough call. State and citizens have their task cut out

With lockdowns imposed on Delhi and many cities and FM Sitharaman reaching out to the industry to rule out a nationwide lockdown, a new model where state governments will be taking decisions on locking down based on their local situations has replaced last year’s excessive centralisation. This is a better way to proceed because presently not all states are seeing the same uncontrollable surge of fresh Covid infections. A nationwide lockdown would be excessive for less affected states. In this scenario, it is apt that CMs take a reasoned call on the situation their governments are facing, as Kejriwal did on Monday.

Delhi’s fresh experiment with lockdown is a crunch moment for the country. The NCR is among India’s major economic drivers. So the gains from the curfew must be proportionate to the costs incurred. Breaking the chain of transmission during the next six days will offer some respite to healthcare workers and facilities swamped by an avalanche of cases, which even the sudden ramp up of field hospitals cannot service. For one, staff strengths are stretched thin at existing healthcare facilities. Second, in some states such as Gujarat, virus transmission is outpacing ramp up in health infrastructure. With reports of doctors and nurses getting reinfected and fatalities too, Centre must move quickly to extend the Rs 50 lakh life insurance cover for healthcare workers. Otherwise, it demoralises our soldiers on the Covid frontlines.

Lockdowns are leaky unless disease surveillance improves, masking is enforced, institutional alternatives to home quarantining are made available, and food security needs of migrant workers to avert an exodus like last year are fulfilled. Further, access to testing and healthcare facilities mustn’t be retarded. Otherwise, a lockdown will not serve its intended purpose. The exemptions granted to e-commerce and other essential services like food delivery and inter-state movement of goods reflect a wise course correction. These will keep many livelihoods afloat.

The virus doesn’t stop transmitting just because people stay indoors. Door to door testing and tracing to spot asymptomatic spreaders must be intensified. Despite much ado about a micro containment strategy, the public health system’s disease surveillance capacity is poor. This is why the second wave surprised us. Imposing a lockdown and depopulating public spaces mustn’t lull the government machinery into inaction. Lockdowns cannot become the default containment strategy while waiting for vaccination to ramp up.


This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.


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