Should the Indian Government extend the Nationwide lockdown?

The Coronavirus outbreak is deepening into several countries and the total number of cases has increased to 10K in India and 1.70 Million Worldwide. Since its first appearance in China's Wuhan, Coronavirus has taken a huge toll on several countries and has taken a massive number of lives; with the number of deaths 273 and 106K for both India & and around the world respectively. Government & organisations are still not able to control these numbers, due to various factors elaborated further.

For almost the past month or two, countries have been trying to get a hold on these numbers via the only weapon in their arsenal, partial or full lockdown. Despite the slight tapering, India’s trajectory continues to be steeper than several Asian peers such as Singapore, Japan, and even Pakistan. But it is flatter than that of the US, which has emerged as the new epicentre of the global pandemic, with the most number of active cases and deaths at the moment.

“During this curfew, we shall neither leave our homes nor get onto the streets or roam about our localities. This people’s curfew will, in a way, be a litmus test for us, for our nation. This is also the time to see and test how prepared India is for fighting of a global pandemic.” PM Modi said, while explaining the rules of lockdown.

Photo by Sandie Clarke on Unsplash

This action was entirely based upon the success of this strategy in Wuhan, China; where some regions of the country were kept under lockdown for 2 months. In those 2 months, the daily number of infections and deaths in China declined sharply, proving that it was effective(also suggesting that isolation is the key factor in averting the pandemic in the absence of a vaccine). Following this, it became a model for other countries to emulate to reduce the spread of coronavirus. On March 9th Italy called for a nationwide lockdown which has now been extended till 3rd May while sharing a few more details Italian PM Giuseppe said: “This is a difficult but necessary decision”.

What does a lockdown mean?

A lockdown can be defined as an emergency protocol implemented by the authorities that prevent people from leaving a given area. A full lockdown will mean that the people in the given area must stay where they are and must not exit or enter a given area.

The nature of a lockdown situation depends on the condition that necessitated it. It usually allows essential supplies, grocery stores, pharmacies, ATM’s and bank and telecommunication services to continue to serve the people.

Assessing the current situation in India

Now, as only 1 day of lockdown is remaining, let’s have a look into the current state of things.
As many as 909 COVID-19 cases and 34 deaths have been reported in the last 24 hours with an average rate of increase of about 17% confirmed cases and 21% deaths since 24th March, according to the data shared by WHO.

Source: World Health Organization

India’s case count is now roughly double to what it was seven days ago. This is a slower rate compared to a 7 days ago when cases were doubling every four days. At the current rate, the number of cases could rise to 20,000 over the next eight days. If the same trajectory continues beyond that period, India’s hospitals could get overwhelmed in the next few months.

Over the past 48 hours, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan have seen the highest spurt in cases. These three states account for 58% of all the new active cases in this period.

Amid demands for ramping up health surveillance, the ICMR(Indian Council of Medical Research) is expanding the COVID-19 testing capacity in State-run as well as private medical colleges. 14 mentor institutes, including the AIIMS and NIMHANS, have been identified to mentor the medical colleges and expand the coronavirus testing capacity.

A total of 1,86,906 samples have so far been tested across the country, of which 7,953 have been found positive for COVID-19. “In the last five days, on an average, 15,747 samples were tested per day and 584 of those were found to be positive per day,” — an ICMR Official said

20 lakh Suraksha retail stores will be set up by the government to help ease out the restrictions. The Suraksha stores initiative will convert the neighbourhood kirana stores into sanitized retail outlets selling daily essentials while adhering to safety norms such as social distancing and sanitation to control the spread of the novel corona virus. The government will rope in private firms to implement this plan, which seeks to ensure that proper protocol is followed in the entire supply chain.

Factors fueling this increase

Looking at the number of cases when lockdown restrictions were imposed they were doubling every 8 days, post which the number came down to 4. Let’s look at this objectively-

  1. When PM Modi asked people of the nation for “9 pm for 9 minutes” he never would have imagined them to get down on the streets to burst crackers or take out rallies while chanting “”. People were arranging diyas and lights all throughout the apartment complex, breaking the most basic rule of isolation. The whole point of the request was to keep our morals high at this time of need and support all the public servants, but people made a joke out of it. It shows how careless and irresponsible the people of our nation can be.
    ”, Hindustan Times reported.
    Also, the transportation situation involving millions of migrant workers could have been dealt with in a much better systematic way. The matter was immediately brought to the attention and therefore quarantine centres were set up in the border areas of Bihar and UP so that if anyone is infected, it does not reach the villages, following which; it would become impossible to trace the source.
  2. Tablighi jamaat, which literally means a society for spreading the faith, is a Sunni Islamic missionary movement. The movement aims to reach out to ordinary Muslims and revive their faith, particularly in matters of ritual, dress, and personal behaviour. The gathering was reportedly attended by more than 3,000 members, including about 800 foreign preachers of the Islamic organisation, which is believed to be popular in some Asian countries. One of the six core principles of Tablighi Jamaat is (proselytisation). The foreign preachers didn’t enter India on missionary visas, which would have limited their movement in the country to specific locations. Because they came on tourist visas, tracking their travel itinerary is extremely difficult now. This is not good news in terms of tracing people with whom they may have come in contact. While tracing their contacts looks impossible, most of the foreign preachers themselves are yet to be traced.
    Another difficulty is the animosity and opposition displayed by some irresponsible Tablighi Jamaat attendees. One police team in Bihar, which had gone to a Mosque in Madhubani to look for Jamaat attendees was reportedly attacked with stones and chased away. Some of them who were quarantined in hospitals have been creating nuisance inside the hospitals making it more difficult for the authorities to contain the situation. Behind this callous and rebellious attitude for safety measures and ‘social distancing’ in the public interest is the mistaken belief that coronavirus will not infect a true believer and the faithful. Such misleading ideas are probably being propagated by the radical, fundamentalist preachers with awfully dated views on modern science and COVID-19 affliction whose remedy continues to elude researchers.
    This was a major reason contributing to the sudden increase in affected cases in India despite a preemptive lockdown.
  3. Absence of vaccine, though the progress is occurring at unprecedented speed in developing vaccines as the infectious pathogen looks unlikely to be stamped out through containment measures alone. The drug industry is hoping to compress the time it takes to get a vaccine to market — usually about 10 to 15 years — to within the next year.
    The furthest along in the clinical process is an experimental vaccine developed by Hong Kong-listed CanSino Biologics Inc. and the Beijing Institute of Biotechnology, which is in phase 2. The other two being tested in humans are treatments developed separately by U.S. drugmakers Moderna Inc. and Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc., according to a WHO document.
    There are 40 plus candidate vaccines that are under development but none of them has reached the next stage in India.

There are 70 coronavirus vaccines in development globally, with three candidates already being tested in human trials, WHO

Countries have been using Hydroxychloroquine(HCQ) as prophylaxis to protect health workers and close contacts of COVID-19 patients. A small clinical trial in China had indicated the anti-malarial drug reduced the duration and severity of cough, fever and pneumonia in patients, leading to a boost in demand for the drug. India had this week eased restrictions on the export of Hydroxychloroquine and paracetamol to fulfil existing orders. The relaxation was made after New Delhi received requests from nearly 20 countries including the United States and Brazil.
According to government spokesperson KS Dhatwalia, the Group of Ministers has approved the release of HCQ to 13 countries after an assessment of stocks.

India manufactures 70% of the world’s supply of Hydroxychloroquine.

Amidst all of this turmoil, when world leaders from all sectors are coming together to fight this pandemic, it is surprising to see the following statement coming from Rajiv Bajaj(MD, Bajaj Auto), where the business is his priority. He should understand that not everyone in the country has access to premium lives.

We can see how the Indian Government is preparing to tackle the current situation and is continuously working to increase the collection of samples and the capacity of beds. But considering how the government took the preventive measure to impose a lockdown when the number of infected was just 400, which was considered a bold move, the government has not been able to control the spread efficiently. Be it migrant workers, Tablighi jamaat members, or the lockdown violators.

To tackle the situation government has released an App, which with this the government will be able to keep a close track of the community transmissions.

Days after PM Modi, urged people to download the ‘Aarogya Setu’ mobile application, saying
The app has received praise from the World Bank. While citing the app’s example, the World Bank said Global technology giants, Apple and Google’s engineering teams have banded together to create a decentralized contact tracing tool that will help individuals determine whether they have been exposed to someone with COVID-19; just like Aarogya Setu app. Big IT firms have helped governments better control this situation, especially how the situation has led Google and Apple to join hands. You can read more about it on my other post.

Testing criteria in India were stringent so far and tests are being ramped up only now. It is very likely that cases will continue to rise as testing expands, even if the lockdown has lowered the rate of transmission of the virus. Given the limited testing so far, there might be some positive cases which are still at large, if lockdown restrictions are lifted, the cases might increase exponentially. Being an Indian, I know how the psyche works for us, as soon as the restriction is uplifted each and every one of us will have a justifiable reason to get out of our homes.

With India having some of the most densely populated cities in the World, it would be very difficult for our government to keep track of the spread and control it. Imagine the number of people an infected person could come in contact in a city like Mumbai, which is already topping the list of infected people in the country, with a population density of 190000 per square km, 1.5 times more than New York which has the most number of reported cases in the US. On top of that, the limited health infrastructure would make the situation dreadful.

Looking at the restlessness of some people and Business Gurus to uplift the lockdown measures, stating that the number of new cases is stagnating in some specific regions; we should remember that after being in 73 days of lockdown, the situation in China improved, however now Asian nations — South Korea, Singapore, China are facing a second COVID-19 wave, fueled by the people importing it from outside. Hence, in these times the country must stay in lockdown with both domestic and international borders so that the situation can be controlled and community transmission can be monitored closely.

Although, from the polls, we can expect that the lockdown would be extended further, or do you think PM Modi would take us by SURPRISE!!

Peace.

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