OPINION: Why weekend lockdowns and night curfews aren't the only solution to India's surging cases of COVID-19

OPINION: Why weekend lockdowns and night curfews aren't the only solution to India's surging cases of COVID-19
Deserted roads in central Delhi during ongoing Covid-induced lockdown on April 20BCCL
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on Tuesday, said that a lockdown in states should be the last resort. Multiple states in India have announced night curfews and weekend lockdowns in the past few weeks. Delhi has been put under a full lockdown till April 26. But lockdowns might not be enough. Here is why according to Himanshu Sikka of Delhi-based think tank IPE Global.

The government has started off with weekend lockdowns and curfews but that may not be enough to reign in this wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some states, like Maharashtra, have started taking the hard calls while others wait and watch with a ‘band-aid approach’ where surgeries are required — such as going for night or weekend curfews.

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The big question that is looming in everyone's mind is how long a lockdown will be required to come out of the current wave. Migrants in Delhi and Maharashtra, who had come back to the city after the first lockdown, have started to go back home in fear of another lockdown being on the cards.

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The official mortalities, though lower in percentage terms, have possibly gone under reported. There is not enough data available or knowledge to create prediction models, and each new day comes with fresh discoveries on how the virus may or may not be behaving.

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Such unpredictable behaviour makes it difficult to assess the damage and define what may be required to regain ground.

The biggest problem with this wave has been convincing the public to continue the COVID-appropriate behaviour. Then whether it’s pandemic fatigue or economic compulsions, or simple reaction to seeing their leadership flouting norms in election rallies or festive gatherings, we see the nation grabbing defeat from the hands of victory — something this cricket-loving nation had come out of in the past few years.

Even a complete lockdown won’t be enough without the infrastructure to back it up


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Given the country's situation, major hotbeds of the pandemic will need to take hard decisions and possibly national leadership will once again need to enforce things where there is inaction.

Central directives may be required soon in States like Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, etc. States like Maharashtra and Delhi would also require longer lockdowns to break the chain.

But that, alone, won’t be enough. The lockdowns will need to ensure the affected get the best treatment possible to contain mortalities. The governments will need to focus on infrastructure improvement, for now, and later, for critical things like testing, oxygen supply, essential drugs and ICU beds, which have all crumbled under pressure this time.
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All this would require much longer than a couple of weeks to bring down the active cases from the current two million-plus to where they stood 60 days back at around 135,000.

Second, the centre and states will collectively need to focus on enhancing capacities for the vaccination supply chain as it opens for all adults from May 1.

A successful campaign will also require steps to remove hesitations around inoculation through large-scale strategic behavioral change in communication. Such efforts in many pockets will need to be door-to-door, as was the case during the Polio vaccination.
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Above all, the lockdowns will need to be used to enhance our surveillance and data analytics capacity, allowing us to understand the key indicators better, have strong prediction models ready and be prepared for the next wave.

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