Shabeer Rather

Can India sustain the Lockdown?

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Prime Minister of India has asked its people to observe complete lockdown from 25th of March to 14th of April, that’s complete 21 days. This lockdown is the world’s largest such exercise. He emphasised that lockdown is the only way or only possible way known so far to save the country from the pandemic.

“This lockdown is actually the stringent curfew, more than the stringent curfew” the Prime Minister Modi announced via television. ”You can’t venture out of your homes,” he added.

The lockdown or stringent curfew means no one is allowed to come out of their homes to go for the job, work, or to buy something (exemption for few professions and services). The lockdown is seen globally as a way to stop spreading of the coronavirus. This imperative lockdown is the only remedy to break the chain . These necessary but severe or rigid restrictions mean no manual or informal workers (daily wagers) can go out to earn to feed their families. The good percentage of Indian population depends directly or indirectly on daily wages. The actual figures are not known but almost 80 percent of Indian workers are informal workers.

The private sector employees can’t sit inside their homes at ease. In most of the cases the owners or the company/industry can’t afford to pay the wages/salaries to their employees without the income generation, keeping in mind the present scenario of Indian economy. The condition or the state in which Indian private sector make it through  from last one or two years adds trouble to the employee as well as the employer. The essential lockdown will add to their miseries.

The government aid of fifteen hundred Indian rupees for three months for the downtrodden or poor section of the society is considered as a cruel joke by netizens and some intellectuals. Almost forty percent of Indian population lives below the poverty line. They earn least to fill their belly on daily basis. The government aid (package) at the time was desperately needed, but the package announced is criticised by many. They consider the announced package not even near to the enough.

“We will die of hunger before the disease,” a person shouted on a TV show.

“We have to go out to feed ourselves and our families. We cannot wait to die of hunger. If we don’t earn, where from we get money to buy food and medicine for our beloved,” the group of people were seen shouting on a news show.

There is huge migration of people across the India. There are people away from their home states, home towns or villages.  They are away to earn and are mostly the informal workers (85% of them) and the students. The plight of these migrants is completely ignored. If they decide to stay put, the problem of food and water will haunt them and if they decide to leave for their home lands (as most of them did) the lockdown of trains, busses and other modes of transportation will create more problems for them. In addition the implementation of the lockout by the police resulted in the humiliation, physical and mental torture of these migrants (as reported by many news channels and newspapers and portals).

Just four hours were given by government of India to its citizens before lockdown was implemented, as if it was normal for Indian people like that of Kashmir or as if whole Indian population was preparing themselves for this lockdown since months. There is no culture of accumulating commodities, articles or to keep surplus food, pulses particularly in urban India, therefore asking people to sit/be inside without prior preparation was ill advised. The desperation to get the essentials will force the population to come out.

Thus the lack of prior warning and preparation for maintaining supplies of food, medicine and other household items could lead to the breakdown of critical supply chain and concerns about how many vulnerable people will make their living or even service.

India had coronavirus cases well over five hundred upto 25th of March, with little tests done ( India did less tests as compared to any other countries) .

“We have a simple message to all countries – test, test, test,” World Health Organisation (WHO) head (Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus).

India is a very densely populated country, means a small lapse or small negligence in testing could prove catastrophic. The question is “did government of India took the decision of lockdown blindfolded? That’s if few hundred or only few cases went unnoticed or untested under lockdown. As already said it’s impossible to expect complete lockdown of the country having huge population of 1.3 billion people. Thus the accelerated testing is required, along with the complete lockdown to break the chain. As rightly said by Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, “All countries should be able to test all suspected cases, they cannot fight this pandemic blindfolded.”

The complete lockdown is only possible with government of India providing adequate packages to its downtrodden and poor section of the society.  The essential supplies, food and other household items must be kept readily available for citizens. The government of India should actually think of home delivery of all essentials including medicine food etc. The migrants across the India must be provided with transport to reach their homes or the stations at different locations with proper precautions.

Besides the medical facilities and system must be upgraded. The government must keep itself ready for the worst. The graph of last two days has shown surge in cases.  The medical staff must be provided with proper PPE. The Italy has the world’s second best medical system. The virus turned out to be its breaking point. Many doctors, nurses lost their lives globally while fighting the dreadful virus.

India has to keep its medical system in check and try to fill the vacuum in between. How India responds or where it goes, India will determine the future of the fight due to its huge and highly dense population.

“India is a hugely populous country. The future of this pandemic will be determined by what happens to densely-populated countries. It is important that India takes aggressive action at the public health level, and at the level of society to control, and suppress this disease,” Mike Ryan, WHO emergencies programme director, said at the organisation’s headquarters in Geneva on March 23.

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