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Beyond Lockdowns

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Although a lockdown or a more severe ‘curfew’ is on the cards in Uttarakhand due to the rising number of Covid-19 cases, the reluctance of the government to do so is understandable. Uttarakhand is not a major industrial or agriculture state that can keep going economically despite a general shutdown – the dependence is on the tourism, pilgrimage and education sectors. Having been hit severely on this score, last year, there was a brief period of recovery before the second wave hit. The economy will be extremely challenged in the coming days as the earlier financial loss has not been made up. Government revenues are down and it is finding it hard to even pay salaries – the dependence on central largesse has increased further.

It is clear that the protocols introduced to manage spread of the pandemic have not worked – mostly because of lax implementation. While those with comparatively assured incomes will not be so bothered by the hardening of restrictions, it will undoubtedly be a disaster for daily wagers, small businesses, salaried employees in the informal sector, etc. The estimates of how many people were pushed below the poverty line in the earlier lockdowns are already grim. What will come next would be tragic.

One possible solution could be that of ramping up vaccination in districts that are exhibiting higher infection rates, rather than seeking to be ‘equitable’ in the distribution process. This could be adopted as an emergency measure at least till such time the supplies of vaccines increase, which is likely by end of June. It would be a controversial decision but should be considered.

Also, every section of society needs to be taught implementation of safety protocols in their particular environments, such as the home, the village, residential colony, street, shop, etc. Presently, it is not even known how exactly the virus managed to spread in a city like Dehradun – how much of a role did places like the malls, restaurants and cinemas play, which face the brunt of the lockdowns? Are they suffering for the mayhem on the crowded streets? Why is Haridwar, which was allegedly the ‘super-spreader’ with the Kumbh, showing lower figures than Dehradun? Decisions based on preconceived notions rather than actual data cannot be expected to solve the problem. These issues will come up again when it is time to open up, for lockdowns only help in buying time. The precious economy will not come back on track till such time people learn to ‘live’ with the virus and not become its easy victims.