5 Apr 2020

What Next, after India's Lockdown Ends!

India’s country-wide lockdown is to end in 10 days. There are some who prefer to err on the safer side and suggest the special curfew be extended, while others hope the inconvenience be ended once and for all.

The 21-day lockdown period (from March 25) is a week longer than the recommended 14 days for isolating infected individuals; presumably, the government had taken cognisance of the possibility that the first week would see non-compliance and disruptions before the larger population would settle down and observe the restrictions in the subsequent two weeks.

To curtail the unabated spread of COVID-19 as evidenced elsewhere, the interventions had to be immediate and substantial. This included putting on hold many normal economic activities, especially in the population dense regions.

The hardships triggered thereafter, were life changing and touched all, even if in different ways and to varied effect. Some inclement pain was caused because of lack of understanding and initial distrust in public authorities, and due to individual inabilities to sustain through a prolonged curfew like situation. Work and income disrupted, mass reverse migration of workers was set off, from urban agglomerations to rural homesteads. For some others, loved ones remained distanced in remote locations, funerals were not be attended, familial duties deferred… The angst of each, will remain in the memories of so many. Urgently, all movement had to be limited and centred to the physical location of each, wherever she/he was.

Besides people movement, there were anxious moments about the supply of food & medicines. Early course corrections were taken by the authorities, to streamline such supply. The term essential and what constituted it was redefined, and many citizens supported the agenda by controlling the urge to stock up indiscriminately.
New found appreciation was realised for those who keep essential services and civil society alive & ticking - including truck drivers, sanitation workers, delivery staff, et al. 
The difficulties were several, and no such emergency shutdown can be expected to roll out as planned. Especially in a country that is sub-continental in expanse, densely populated and immensely diverse in nature. This country’s citizenry is one that jealously guards its liberties - in my opinion which are at times misconstrued - the defining nature of an animated and free India. Yet, the bulk of India willingly gave up individual freedoms for collective security and I trust that most will understand that it is prudent to overreact to an invisible threat than to underreact, where the risk is to spread indiscriminate death. Still, we will expect a flurry of living room debates, as hindsight would want to have its own final say!

Acknowledging the progress of this disease as reported from around the world, the government could not have dallied and it had to adopt the recommendation of its experts to lockdown all normalcy. On balance was the rampant spread of a contagion and unwarranted deaths in the world’s second most populous country. The danger was more aggravated in the backdrop of difficult ground realities, the habitual indifference to national priorities, a superstitious religious fatalistic culture, and that there is no cure.

The backdrop has not changed - many had no option but to live in conditions where physical segregation is still aspirational. There were also instances of persons hiding the illness and others who broke quarantine; a few served traditional offerings to invited crowds, hoping to earn divine absolution; others gathered at street corners to gossip; a few even collected en masse for prayers – foiling the purpose of the suffering that had to be consciously adopted by way of a nationwide lockdown. Meanwhile, many others did worship by nursing and caring for the ill in hospitals, by working to ensure that food and other essentials stayed in supply and to ensure that basic law & order was maintained.

The actions of those few, able but dispossessed of holistic thought or discipline and not mindful of the added hazard their actions contribute, have diluted this battle with coronavirus. Uncaringly na├»ve, or possessed of personal inclinations, this same category may hereof even berate the futility of the lockdown, if they survive the virus. Luckily many will, little realising that their actions may have added to the misfortune of those who won’t, even if hundreds of kilometres apart.

Truth is, in the face of this invisible virus, the implicit frailty of habits and possessions, which we generally take for granted, are now laid bare. Society is rethinking its priorities and will continue to reverberate for a while, from when the earth stood still, thanks to a virus, in 2020. The erstwhile overvaluing of the superficial may see a change, and gross undervaluing of functional experts and scientists is seeing a reversal. Even the level of trust placed in elected representatives and a stodgy bureaucracy is being refurbished. Social direction and political philosophy will see many changes hopefully for the better, after this is all over.

This lockdown will soon end. The Indian government clarified it does not plan to extend it, though it might have to revaluate, depending on future status reviews. This nationwide pause has not defeated the virus, merely pared it down in scale, and the next risk appraisal will once again have to weigh between repercussions and probable deaths.

Meanwhile when this particular lockdown ends, half-hearted as it was for some, what are you planning?
On the Ides of April in the year 2020, what will you look forward to...
• Soak in the crowds at a shopping mall or the theatre • Rush your favourite restaurant for an exotic meal • Gather friends, throw a party, visit the club pool • Get the kids out of your hair, send them to summer school • Drop by the barber shop or your favoured hangout • Go to your religious establishment and praise God

Sure, go ahead… but do give serious thought to your situation, and of others beyond. Review how you managed the last 21 days, and assess if you can bring succour to those who could not cope equally. How about asking a nearby shelter for the homeless if they still need any support. Keep supporting the government and social workers to manage the humanitarian crisis. Appreciate that farm hands also must maintain physical distance and the new harvest may not be as timely and efficient. Bear in mind that your neighbours, as well as neighbouring countries, may continue to need help. Realise how working from home healed nature, and how you could improve on it. Remember, “Patient Zero” was only a few months ago and the coronavirus remains. How about preparing for the next wave, and it may come soon. I suggest not to get overly exuberant as the situation can suddenly change, especially in densely populated cities.

At this point, in India the spread of COVID-19 is suppressed thanks to the lockdown, a result also seen in China. The spread of COVID-19 seems repressed at the moment in India, as records indicate it has about 3000 active cases with novel coronavirus. True, that testing is not extensive and asymptomatic carriers of the virus also remain undetected. Even if assuming that twenty times this number still actively carry COVID-19, it means around 60,000 people among 1.33 billion in India, or 1 among 22,000. Considering India’s population density of 464 people per square kilometre, in simplistic terms this will infer an incidence of an active case of COVID-19 every 48 square kilometres. But this simple average will differ in urban areas having high population density.

In an area with a population density of 22,000 per square km (say Mumbai), it can imply that somewhere within a radius of 565 metres or 750 adult steps from your location, a person could be actively carrying the virus. The district north east Delhi, estimated with a pop. density of 40,000/sq,km, changes this incidence range to 418 metres (about 550 steps). In Bengaluru, where the pop. density is about 17,000/sq.km, a person within 635 metres could be suffering this novel virus.

These are rough estimates and a realistic deduction will require an accurate number of active coronavirus case in each specific area, and it will change if the cases are quarantined. Also, no one really interacts with all 22,000 people in their radius, but as this contagion has shown rapid fire spread with domino effect, care to maintain physical distance is needed. This is why the lockdown as well as precautions such as washing hands is made necessary. The virus is still out there, and a vaccine or any cure is not. Till then, take all precautions and keep hoping the coronavirus mutates into a benign form and if you can, help find a cure or a vaccine.

It is said that this lockdown may be relaxed in phases to stagger the re-emergence of the population. Presumably, this means certain watering holes – like movie halls, shopping malls, religious centres, clubs, etc. – will not open immediately, working hours may be alternated and there may be some regional variations depending on case loads. Irrespective, everyone must continue to follow all guidelines the authorities recommend.
Stay your distance from COVID-19 and continue to keep others safe!
And next time the government requires us to lockdown, please make certain it is complied with fully in spirit and action, by yourself as well by others around you.

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