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Lockdown: Perfunctory or an Effective Solution?

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COVID-19 Pandemic

 By Dr Nitin Pandey
Over the last few days, Dehradun has been a witness to rather unusual situation, that of the Dehradun Traders’ Association calling for weekend lockdown, apparently in response to “alarming spread of Coronavirus” in the city. They want everything to be shut down with a curfew like situation, with even dairies being shut after 7 a.m. A few MLAs have also been calling upon the government to enforce a weekend shutdown so that the “city can be sanitised properly”. But are such calls justified and will they make any difference?
To find a solution, we must first understand the problem. The present problem is that COVID cases are on the rise, not just in Dehradun but across the entire country. It is also true that we will see higher and higher peaks of case numbers and the surge will continue, at least, for the next few months. So, will locking down everyone in their homes stop the rise in cases or will it just delay the rise?
Lockdowns are designed to DELAY the spread of Coronavirus to give time to the government to prepare the infrastructure to treat people who fall sick due to the virus. Lockdowns are not intended to, nor can they stop the spread of coronavirus, they merely delay the spread. The first lockdown was enforced in the country on 22 March, when the number of cases was around 396 nationwide and cases were rising around 50-100 per day, total, and the first unlock was initiated on 31 May,  when the case count in our country was 1,82,143 with a daily rise of 10,000 cases. Was that illogical or wrong? What the lockdown did was to give time for various governments to prepare for the surge, both in terms of infrastructure and in training the medical personnel. So, when that was achieved to a reasonable level, the Central Government initiated the Unlock, even though cases were reaching newer heights. If this was the logic at the National level, with the sharpest medical brains at the helm, is the demand of Dehradun Traders’ Association logical?
India has 3 associations of Epidemiologists – the Indian Public Health Association, Indian Association of Preventive and Social Medicine, and Indian Association of Epidemiologists. All the three, time and again, warned against ad hoc lockdowns and labelled them as counter-productive. Lockdowns, to be effective in preventing the spread of coronavirus, must be for a minimum of 14 days, which is the average incubation period of the disease. Locking down for a couple of days on a whim has no meaning. If we don’t trust professional doctors in the field, who are the best brains on pandemics in the country, then are we not being naïve?
Sanitisation Drives is another quixotic step our State Government revels in taking. WHO has time and again warned that sanitising drives have no effect on the spread of the virus and are detrimental to the health of those exposed. Yet, for some inexplicable reason, our State Government and our leaders insist on spraying poison indiscriminately in order to be seen as “doing something” for the virus.
The saddest part of these calls for lockdown is that they totally ignore the daily wage earners, the labourers, the vegetable sellers and all those who have to earn daily for a living. Millions of people in India have been pushed into poverty by the lockdown according to RBI reports and it has warned that “eye catching” erratic lockdowns must be stopped for the good of the Nation. Yet, our political and business leaders see lockdown as an effective tool for control of Coronavirus, for reasons best known to them. Painting their demand for lockdown as the will of “people of Dehradun” by the Dehradun Traders’ Association is absolutely incorrect, a vast majority of people, a vast majority of small traders and a vast majority of daily wage earners are absolutely against such a measure. We have had enough lockdowns in the past. If some businessmen want to lockdown, they are most welcome to close their shops and sit at home. Why force everyone else to do the same? The grapevine has it that these associations are afraid of a lockdown during the forthcoming festival season, so they are insisting on a pre-emptive lockdown before. If that is true, it is a very sad commentary on the state of our people. One can only wish wisdom prevails, and the Dehradun Traders’ Association understands the gravity of the harm its attempts to force a lockdown will do.
At this stage of the Pandemic, the only thing that will work is for people to take care of themselves. They should wear masks, maintain social distancing and avoid crowded places. It is the duty of every person to take care of his or her health. Expecting some magic sops from the Government to make Corona disappear is living in fool’s paradise. It is my sincere request to our politicians and leaders to leave the fight against the Pandemic to professionals and not try and make things worse by their erratic actions.
(Dr Nitin Pandey is a Dehradun based ex Indian Air Force doctor, a Pediatrician and an active Social worker.)