Karnataka’s decision to shun lockdowns is well-intended, but must be accompanied by rigorous testing and contact-tracing
Given the effect the national and local lockdowns have had on livelihoods, Karnataka CM BS Yeddiyurappa saying that the state, including capital Bengaluru where the Covid-19 situation has become quite grim, will see no further lockdowns is reassuring. Though unrestricted movement carries with it the risk of infection becoming widespread, the experience with the various long and short lockdowns has shown that while these delay spread, spread reverts to a much faster pace once they are lifted. Meanwhile, the vulnerable sections of the population are pushed deeper into poverty. Indeed, many experts have questioned the lockdown, even as they have said certain measures such as distancing, wearing masks in public, etc, are quite important.
Yeddiyurappa’s announcement came just before the week-long lockdown in Bengaluru was lifted; the lockdown had been implemented not just to control spread, but also to firm up further the state’s Covid-19 response infrastructure. While it is a politically fraught decision—there are many supporters of lockdowns, even among the CM’s Cabinet colleagues—given wild spread would earn the government brickbats over the decision to shun lockdowns, the government would perhaps do much better if it goes with a strategy of wide testing and rigorous contact-tracing & isolation. While Bengaluru has so far conducted 17,472 tests per million residents, the corresponding figures for Delhi and Mumbai—the worrying rise in cases in Bengaluru could put it on a trajectory these cities have followed unless it takes urgent measures—are 43,708 and 34,607. The city administration will also have to step up contact-tracing, which will increasingly become difficult as cases rise; the contact-tracing showing in India has been quite poor; Bengaluru, and the rest of Karnataka, will have to buck this trend if it is to continue without lockdowns. Given lockdowns offer a breather for overwhelmed healthcare facilities, the state government must also ensure that it hits the ground running on creation of adequate healthcare capacity for Covid-19 apart from sustaining an adequate healthcare workforce.