Coronavirus outbreak: The integrity of a lockdown

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Published: March 27, 2020 5:45 AM

Leaders can’t be claiming unreasonable exemptions from the lockdown if they expect 1.3 billion Indians to follow it.

Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath participated in a pre-dawn religious ceremony in Ayodhya on Wednesday (File Image)

The prime minister, in the midst of the nation-wide lockdown, is leading by example—recent photographs of a Cabinet meeting show members eschewing the usual seating arrangement to ensure, in keeping with social distancing norms, that there is at least a two-metre distance between them. But, other leaders seem to exemplify undermining of the lockdown.

Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath participated in a pre-dawn religious ceremony in Ayodhya on Wednesday, the very first day of the lockdown, to mark the first stage of the building of the Ram Temple—though the Ram Mahostav that was planned around it was cancelled—and even tweeted photographs of the event that show social distancing wasn’t observed. This was in defiance of the PM’s call to cancel religious congregations and functions. Ironically, Uttar Pradesh was one of the first states to enforce a partial lockdown, days before the national lockdown was announced. The Delhi administration, too, seems to have been complicit in violations of social distancing—government-run shelters for the homeless, whose occupancy has double in the week so far, had hundreds of people sitting in dangerous proximity for a meal.

It may seem easier to justify the violation in the latter case—the government, after all, must ensure that the lockdown doesn’t endanger the already vulnerable sections of the population, and this may qualify as an essential service. Also, the workers at the homeless shelters did use masks and gloves, and ensured that basic personal hygiene was followed by those availing of the facilities. But, visuals of Adityanath’s religious fervour, and Delhi’s under-equipped welfare facilities weaken the national resolve to observe the lockdown in a meaningful manner. If our leaders expect the people to adhere to the lockdown, they can’t be claiming exemptions.

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