Time for a lockdown: Even India Inc leaders have called for one, govt can learn from mistakes of the first lockdown

By: |
May 04, 2021 5:15 AM

Since April 8, the positivity rate (7-day rolling average) has more than doubled, the number of daily deaths (discounting the reported under-counting in many states) has risen 4.2 times.

The Lancet Covid-19 Commission’s India Task Force has recommended a differentiated containment strategy, depending on local urgencies.The Lancet Covid-19 Commission’s India Task Force has recommended a differentiated containment strategy, depending on local urgencies.

Given the relentless second surge of Covid-19, the Supreme Court on Sunday urged the Centre and the states to consider a lockdown. The situation is undoubtedly grave: there’s a shortage of medical oxygen, drugs, hospital beds and medical staff. Bear in mind, the Centre had emphatically shot down any possibility of lockdown on April 8 and, just two weeks ago, the SC had stayed the Allahabad High Court order to the Uttar Pradesh government asking it to lock down five districts in view of the spread there.

However, since April 8, the positivity rate (7-day rolling average) has more than doubled, the number of daily deaths (discounting the reported under-counting in many states) has risen 4.2 times. Moreover, several states have reported vaccine shortages, to the extent that not only have many states failed to open vaccinations for the 18-44 years age group from May 1, there are also reports of second-dose appointments for the 45+ age group getting cancelled in some cities. This shortage doesn’t look like it is going to be addressed soon.

The Economic Times has reported, citing Serum Institute of India chief Adar Poonawalla’s interview to the UK-based Financial Times, the shortage could continue well into July since SII had not expanded capacity due to the “lack of orders”. The Centre has clarified that it did place orders with SII in late April for 11 crore Covishield doses and with Bharat Biotech for 5 crore Covaxin doses, to be released in May, June and July and SII has acknowledged this.

However, if the government believes there is even the slightest chance of a shortfall, a lockdown would help slow down the spread of the infection. The current local restrictions in some cities and the consequent migrant-return threatens to carry the infections to rural parts of the country; indeed, the rural test-positivity ratio is already rising in some states. A lockdown would definitely help the country’s overwhelmed healthcare fraternity and facilities.

The Lancet Covid-19 Commission’s India Task Force has recommended a differentiated containment strategy, depending on local urgencies. However, some members of the Union government’s Covid-19 taskforce, as reported by The Sunday Express, have pushed hard for a national lockdown. While a lockdown will have serious implications for economic activity, now is perhaps not the time to be shackled by the future pain. We should now work to ensure the crisis does not turn into a catastrophe. Industry captains seem to be echoing this view, with CII president Uday Kotak urging the “strongest national steps including curtailing of economic activity to reduce suffering.” Kotak’s note recognises the overstretched healthcare capacity and personnel, and backs the “highest response measures … to break the chain”, in keeping with expert advice from India and abroad.

A lockdown decision, going by the fallout this had last year, would be a difficult one to take, but seems increasingly necessary. While this newspaper has highlighted the pain last year’s lockdown inflicted, perhaps a lot of this can be mitigated if the right lessons are drawn from that experience. From rolling out a strong welfare response to take care of the vulnerable sections of the population, whose livelihoods are lost by such sweeping restrictions, to designing a strong stimulus to help small businesses tide over another lockdown and reboot quickly after, the Centre and the states need to work together to ensure that the spread is brought under control while the pain to the economy is minimised.

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