Curfew or Confinement?
The perilous Coronavirus infection made a global appearance with a number of terms and conditions. With the sharp escalation of COVID cases worldwide and the subsequent proclamation of it as a ‘pandemic’ by the World Health Organisation (WHO) several countries were propelled to implement lockdown of varying magnitudes in an attempt to defeat its prevalence. The advent of the virus has paralysed the global order and collapsed the economy. It has issued uniform safety and hygiene protocols for all, confined the world to a domestic periphery and pushed humankind towards a masquerade.
India has been no exception. Referring to social distancing as the only legitimate approach to disrupt the infection cycle, Prime Minister Modi squeezed the nation into a hasty, unplanned and obligatory lockdown. The first phase of the lockdown was initiated on 25th March when India was battling 562 active cases with the death toll standing at 13. However, as the ’21-day-virus-defeat’ strategy failed to bear fruits, the 1.3 crore people were further pushed into a second phase(up to 3rd May), third phase(up to 17th May) and two consecutive relaxed lockdowns extending up to 31st May and 30th June, respectively.
The unpragmatic model of a national lockdown squarely brings to us the realisation that the country cannot afford an abrupt halt of activities and further stimulate the underlying humanitarian and economic crises. While the curfew was aimed at flattening the COVID curve, it contrastingly affected the economic curve and hurt the already decimated economy. According to the Global Economic Prospects Report provided by the World Bank, Indian GDP for the financial year 2020-21 is predicted to contract by 3.2%. Retreating to a state of normalcy at a time when India stood among the top-10 countries most prone to the virus, deserved a well-planned exit strategy. Unfortunately, the partial lockdown and voluntary relaxations drove the country to a situation which resonates with the unplanned lockdown 1.0- haphazard, abrupt and absurd.
Inarguably, the lockdown has managed to save a number of lives and contain the rate of transmission; but it has not been able to fit into an appropriate framework that will help India survive in a non-COVID world. Moreover, the Unlock model which set foot on June 8 loosened the existing grip and witnessed a sharp surge in COVID cases. India’s unlock phase started at a time when the country became the fourth most affected country globally with the number of cases nearing three lakhs. Such unprecedented times saw workers going back to offices, public transports frequenting the roads, religious places opening their doors and the COVID curve spiralling daily. As of 27th June, India has crossed the five lakh mark and a death toll exceeding 15,000. The question that should be directed at this point is: Is India prepared to perpetuate its unlock model?
Unlock 1.0 does not connote that the virus has been killed. Neither does it hint at the cessation of the three-month-long uphill struggle. The government justification for the Unlock rhetoric included amplified testing, the seamless supply of PPE kits, well-developed isolation facilities and most importantly, necessary retreat to normalcy of economic activities. Prime Minister Modi’s support to ‘re-open’ India essentially relied on the claims that the country needed a rejuvenation of activities to stimulate the three-months’ stagnant socio-economic growth. The re-opening of India was subject to the terms that barring the containment zones, normalcy could be restored in the green and orange zones and in the red zones with certain restrictions.
The only silver lining in India’s lockdown strategy has been an impressive improvement in the recovery rate which now tops 58%. Apart from this, comparing India’s case to countries like Malaysia or New Zealand where the lockdowns have been wholly successful, it can be easily asserted that the plan backfired for India. At such a point, Unlock 1.0 or even venturing into an Unlock 2.0 seem fairly relevant options. Although the first approach to control the infection was to break the cycle of community infection, it is known for a fact that India cannot be shut any longer. Not only has the lockdown affected livelihood but also taken a severe humanitarian toll that unveiled itself in the forms of mental health, gender-based violence and unemployment.
Next, a government-backed lockdown is merely an attempt to appropriate social distancing norms. Lockdowns and forced confinement to homes can never offer an antidote to a virus. It, in fact, arrives with the advantage of offering a time framework within which possible measures may be outlined to battle the disease. Such measures may include uplifting health infrastructure to cater to the massive influx of patients and looking for steps to proliferate the economy. Therefore, it is certainly known for a fact that the lockdown hasn’t been much effective and India is in no way prepared to plunge into yet another lockdown. But the question is how and what should the Unlock strategy encompass?
Firstly, unlocking the country must be on the lines of safety protocols and social distancing norms. Limited gatherings and maintaining distances is the modus operandi to hamper the viral transmission. Secondly, the lack of planning associated with the spontaneous announcement of the lockdown should not be prolonged in the Unlock fabric. The plight of migrant workers, front line workers, economically and socially vulnerable sections must be taken into account. Thirdly, India has to restore and consolidate itself on the fiscal front. The halt of activities has so far led the country to incur a daily $4.6 billion loss. GDP for the financial year 2021 is anticipated to rest below 3%.
There is a vague probability to stretch the lockdown any further in order to eliminate the virus. Recent developments in health infrastructure suggest that the country is preparing itself to deal with the contagion. A revival of daily life and socio-economic activities are the sine qua non of a functional state framework. Therefore, taking into consideration the grim repercussions caused by thwarting the life of the country, there is only one approach to defeat the virus till a vaccine has been developed- if not lockdown, then containment.
Author’s note: This article covers the time period between March’20 and June’20. Developments after the mentioned period are beyond the scope of this article.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Kootneeti Team