“The lockdown should only be in identified hotspots/clusters… Locking down the whole state can be disastrous for a lot of people as livelihoods are at stake,” CPPR Senior Fellow Rijo M John in The New Indian Express

Image source: The New Indian Express

Cost of shutdown is borne by the poor while it benefits a few rich. Rather than go for a trial and error method, authorities must come out with a  long-term plan as virus will be here for some time to come, say experts 

In all-party meeting on Friday decided not to impose a complete lockdown in the state. However, with the Covid-19 cases spiralling to over 1,000 a day, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has hinted that he is not averse to the idea.Giving credence to such a prospect is the local transmission of the coronavirus, which stands at 80 per cent of the total cases. If the infection grows at the same pace, Kerala may witness more than 1,700 cases per day by the end of this month. 

This alarming increase in the numbers may be the reason that has prompted the Chief Minister to give a cue on a possible lockdown in the near future.But how feasible is a total lockdown? Is it advisable for Kerala to go for a complete shutdown now? Three months of lockdown has wrecked people’s livelihoods and lives in the state, as it did across the country. No other state has gone for a total lockdown since then. The state’s economy is estimated to have suffered a `34,000-crore knock in terms of loss in tax revenue alone.

If not lockdown, what’s the best strategy to counter pandemic?
“Socially and economically weaker sections of society are known to have a lower life expectancy as well as lower burden of non-communicable diseases. These  lifestyle diseases amplify the risks of Covid,” said Oommen C Kurian, senior fellow & head of health initiative at Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation (ORF) working on public health. 

“We need to keep in mind that a lockdown may not help greatly those who live in overcrowded localities. Hence, it is clear that the costs of lockdown are borne by the lower rungs of the society when the obvious benefits are to the relatively better off. It is a blunt instrument that should be used only as the last resort,” he said.Major income generating sectors of the state, like tourism, are already shattered to the core by the pandemic.

“We all know that as the government has no precedent to follow when it comes to tackling such a grave situation. However, announcing a total lockdown again will make the public hopeless. The administrators should stop this trial and error method. What we need is not lockdown, but a long-term plan as the virus will be here for time to come, and we still do not know how long this is going to last,” said C P Ajith Kumar, former Travel Operators Association office bearer and proprietor of Suburban Travels, a travel firm.

Echoing a similar view, Rijo John, health economist and senior fellow of Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR), a Kochi-based think tank, said complete lockdown is not the way going forward. “The lockdown should only be in identified hotspots/clusters. The government must increase the current levels of testing manifold and try to track and trace as many contacts as possible and isolate them. Such locked down pockets should be monitored well to prevent leakages. Locking down the whole state can be disastrous for a lot of people as livelihoods are at stake,” he said.

Rijo pointed out that though big cities such as Delhi and Bengaluru have experienced shutdowns, no state has gone for total lockdown.“The cases are doubling in 11-12 days in Kerala. We expect daily cases to touch 1,500 to 2,000 very soon. Since our’s is a densely populated state, the chance of spread is also high. But, we can’t deny people of their livelihood. What have we achieved in the first three months of lockdown? Will the government feed all the people, and provide them with unemployment wages?” he asked.

As of Saturday, Kerala has a total of 481 hotspots. The state’s excellent track record in community-based surveillance and involving people in containment should be the strategy, reckoned Oommen.
“Kerala has a great track record of community-based surveillance and people’s participation in containment measures. 

“Ensuring voluntary compliance by the population by effective communication and confidence-building measures should be government’s priority, not a broad lockdown, which affects the poorer populations more, without offering many of them any benefit,” he said.Experts also pinpointed that people of Kerala, the state with the highest rate of literacy in the country, should think and act more responsibly, if they want to bring down the number of local transmission cases.“We need to shift from overall lockdowns to protecting the most vulnerable through effective physical distancing, hand washing, masks, and more decentralised mobility control measures according to need,” Oommen added.

This news article was published in The New Indian Express on July 26, 2020. Click here to read

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