Is Lockdown/Curfew a proactive action in combating the COVID-19 pandemic?

/ Guest Column / Sunday, 18 July 2021 16:39

By: Dr Rajkumar Giridhari Singh
The recent announcement of 10 days curfew from 18th July to 28th July 20221 by the State Government of Manipur has brought up the debate whether curfew and lockdown is an appropriate measure to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic in the forefront. Breaking the chain of transmission of the wide prevalence of Delta variant of Covid-19 in the state is the reason given by the authority for imposing the curfew as per the public notice dated 15th July 2021of the Principal Secretary (Health), Government of Manipur (GOM) and subsequent order issued by the Chief Secretary, GOM dated 16th July, 2021. Some of the issues that are in the forefront which strikes in the mind of people is that if the partial curfew which has been in vogue since April 29, 2021 for the last 2 and half months cannot break the chain of transmission: do the 10 days curfew is of any good? Is mortality rate anything to do with delta variant or inadequate healthcare? The seriousness of the initiative of the government is also observed with suspicion as there are loopholes in the notices and orders issued where the print and electronic media were missing in the list of services exempted during the curfew. Of course due corrigendum was issued to rectify the changes required. This gross mistake, to the best possible unintended, is observed by the masses as a casual approach of the authority in handling the covid-19 pandemic.
It may be recalled that since the advent of the coronavirus (SARS COVID-19) in the later end of 2019 the world has witnessed very unusual challenges. In India the first case of Covid-19 was reported on 30 January 2020 in Thrissur, Kerala. As on 17th July, 2021 190,252,946 cases and 4,091,204 deaths have been reported worldwide. India has the second largest cases in the world after the United States. As on 17th July, 2021 the total number of cases reported in India is 31,063,987 while the total number of reported deaths is 413,123. Infection rates in the country started to drop in September 2020 along with the number of new and active cases. The number of cases of the COVID-19 dipped down tremendously in the beginning of the year 2021. However, there had been a major uptrend in the number of infections during the months of March, April and May, 2021. This second wave beginning in March 2021 was much larger than the first, with shortages of vaccines, hospital beds, oxygen cylinders and other medicines in many parts of the country. India which is the second most populous country in the world was struggling to control this devastating second wave of coronavirus. The surge in cases has overwhelmed the nation’s poorly funded and dilapidated public health infrastructure, with many states suffering from acute shortages of medical oxygen, essential drugs, beds, health workers and vaccines, among other vital supplies.  
India’s covid-19 response is being guided by a number of committees, empowered groups, advisory groups and task forces. The overall response has been led by the Prime Minister and his office. There has been a series of measures taken up by the authorities among which includes covid-testing and vaccination. Vaccination has been rolled out in the country since 16 January 2021. The Oxford–AstraZeneca vaccine (Covishield), the Indian-produced Covaxin, The Russina origin Sputnik V, and the Moderna vaccine are the vaccines authorised by India for emergency use. The government has also been responding to the outbreak of the second wave with a series of localised lockdowns, while avoiding a nationwide lockdown, which would have more adverse economic impact. The scope of lockdowns affects mobility, and is indicative of the strength of India’s recovery. Mobility, on the other hand, is key to economic activity. A prolonged second wave would result in more job losses and business closures making worse to the already impaired physical and human capital after the first wave.
The situation of the second wave is also not uniform among the states of the Union.  Nevertheless, some states and cities have managed the health emergency better than others. In the past one month there has been recording a decline in infections in several cities and states.  Phased unlocking was announced starting June in many states including Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh etc. What is being observed is that in these states the decision-making of the government is being driven by the input given by epidemiology committees.
The huge shock delivered by the pandemic has now served as a wake-up call for authorities to overhaul and modernize the nation’s ill-equipped health system. Now there has been significant improvement in the supply of life saving medical oxygen supply with the establishment of oxygen plants in various parts of the country. However there are questions worth answering with sincerity in dealing with this health crisis. Are we ready for a possible third wave with the shoring up of capacities of the hospitals (both physical and manpower)? Of course erecting oxygen plants for improving the supply of the medical supply has been executed.
In handling the covid-19 pandemic there are two schools of thoughts, those who believe that lockdown as a useful tactic to avoid the rising number of Covid-19 cases, and another that thinks a lockdown would destroy the livelihoods and lives. People of the second school are of the opinion that lock down only adds up to economic misery and affects the livelihoods especially the family who barely survives with wages. No matter which school one belongs to, what is required is to adopt the best strategy which will help in preventing the spread of virus with minimum possible disturbance to the livelihood of the people. A lock down may be argued to be necessary and essential to help in building the healthcare infrastructure or to break the chain of spread or to do contact tracing of the infection.
The world over expert bats for vaccination of the people quickly besides following SOPs such as keeping adequate social distance and mask-wearing to bring down cases. In Manipur the surge in the number of cases is largely driven by the Delta strain.  As per World Health Organisation (WHO), Delta variant is a variant of concern because it has increased transmissibility. It rapidly takes off and spreads between people more efficiently than Alpha variant that was first detected in January 2021. This variant has already spread around 96 countries and expected to continue spreading. There are number of factors that are contributing to increased transmission around the world. The increases in social mixing and social mobility, the inappropriate use of public health and social measures, and unequal and uneven distribution of vaccines are some of the factors for this increased transmission. WHO observes that  it remains important for us to follow all the appropriate behaviour including having clean hands, wearing a mask covering the nose and mouth, avoiding crowded places and making sure to keep our distance from others. WHO continues to emphasise the importance of vaccines. It upholds that “Vaccines are incredibly effective in preventing severe disease and death so we need to get fully vaccinated”.
Given the alarming Covid situation in the State with over 1,000 cases detected in four consecutive days and the daily positivity rate remaining over 10 percent on average, and consecutive mortality of the infected people the announcement of a 10-day  total curfew by the state Government is considered as imperative as notified by the state authority. Prior to the state-wide 10 day total curfew imposed the curfew is still in place at seven districts of Manipur-Imphal West, Imphal East, Bishnupur, Thoubal, Kakching, Churachandpur and Ukhrul while night curfew from 7 pm to 5 am was incorporated for the remaining districts as per the earlier order dated 9th July 2021 of the GOM. Now it is pertinent for all thinking citizens to instropect whether the initiative undertaken is a right approach or not? If this tactics does not work, what’s next?
It should be noted that the pandemic is more than a year old and is only getting stronger. After an initial dip, the numbers of cases have been rising around the world. The Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged states where COVID 19 cases are rising to take proactive measures to prevent a third wave. Before we jump to any conclusion it is immensely important to understand that we are living in a dynamic situation and we are learning more everyday of the variant of concern. As per the WHO emergency committee in a statement on July 16, 2021 observed that “The pandemic is nowhere near finished”. The WHO has warned that “more dangerous variants of covid-19 could tear across the world”. The recent ICMR report also suggests that vaccination provides a reduction in hospital admission and mortality (only 9.8% cases required hospitalisation with a fatality rate of 0.4% of the cases). The progress in vaccinations needs to be ramped up significantly if we have to win the fight against COVID-19. All blarney and fake videos, messages, articles doing rounds in social media about the myth of vaccination needs to be dealt with more strictly.  
It is imperative to take proactive measures to prevent any possibility of a third wave.  The year 2020 was a very unusual year and challenging on multiple fronts and covid-19 continues to haunt in the year 2021 too. There was a gigantic shift in the way we live and exist. It is believed that there remains a high degree of uncertainty about the evolution of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s woeful to visualise how pandemic is affecting the economy and lives of the people. It is important for each one of us to contribute our little share in combating this pandemic. The best way to contribute is to get vaccinated and follow the COVID-19 appropriate behaviour of clean hand, wearing mask, and social distancing. Government can chalk out the best policy to combat the pandemic but the onus to make the policy successful lies with all stakeholders: the bureaucrats, frontline workers, political parties, CSOs and general public.
In consideration of the situation prevailing and unprecedented virulent Covid-19 what’s worth pondering are: (a) Is lockdown/curfew a proactive action in combating the COVID-19 pandemic? (b) Is lockdown/curfew the only option to avoid the COVID-19 third wave? Will the curfew bring down the mortality rate? Are we sincere enough in executing the strategy we framed? If 10 day curfew does not meet the intended expectation what’s next? The jury is still out……
(The writer is Assistant Professor, Department of Management, Mizoram University)

 

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