India Fights COVID-19: Lockdown 4.0 From Today!

After the 5-episode bilingual presentation of the COVID Package of Rs. 20000 billions hugely disappointed many of the direly-affected stakeholders the government of India extended the Lockdown till 31st May, 2020 which was largely expected following a 10-day heavy spike of new COVID-19 cases in various states of the country.  Thus, Lockdown 4.0 comes into effect from the 18th of May, 2020, now making it go up to 68 days. Maharashtra, the worst affected state with more than 33000 cases, had announced an extension a day before the national lockdown with the total cases in India nearing the 100,000 mark. In the last twenty four hours there was a record spike of 5242 new cases and deaths crossing the 3000 mark. The main point of focus of Lockdown 4.0 was on easing of curbs as promised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his national address a few days back that this Lockdown was going to be different than the others.

Domestic flights, railways except for the migrants’ and special trains, metro rail, malls, cinema halls, gyms, places of worship and large gatherings, schools and colleges continue to remain shut; other marketplaces and shops are allowed to open with conditions like staggered timing or odd-even options; restaurants and bars are to remain shut in most places while in some places these can open only for home deliveries and takeaways; red, orange and green zones are to be decided by the states; inter-state travel would be permitted depending on the concerned states’ consent; sports complexes and stadiums are allowed to open without spectators; app-cabs and other taxi services are also allowed to operate with the protocols to be maintained; the condition of 33% attendance in government and private offices is also withdrawn; the provisions of children below 10 years of age and the elderly above 65 not allowed to go out of home and the night curfew from 7 pm to 7 am are to continue; e-commerce of non-essential services are to be allowed and opening of salons will be subject to discretion of the states concerned. All of these relaxations are not applicable for the containment zones.

However, the states are not obliged to carry out the relaxations granted depending on the prevailing situation. States like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat are not likely to follow the easing of curbs as heavy spikes of new cases have been going on unabated there. In a contrast, the Delhi Chief Minister has been showing a spirited inclination for easing of most of the curbs despite the sharp spike of new cases continuing in the Union Territory. Karnataka where the spread seems to be under control is going ahead with maximum relaxations including reopening of salons and all forms of intra-state public transport except for Sundays when the state plans for complete lockdown. The case of the eastern state of West Bengal has been a most peculiar one with play of politics in time of a national crisis largely due to ideological differences between the state and the central governments which led to compromising the regulations, norms and protocols regularly. Situation in the state is still precarious: the highest death rate shown by an Indian state, steady rise in new cases and tests done still being very low. Meanwhile, the government of India has warned all the states not to dilute the prohibitions and granted relaxations.

The logic behind the phased easing of curbs has been that lockdowns are not permanent solutions and so cannot be continued indefinitely. However, from the start of May, 2020 the country has seen some contrasting developments: the spread of the novel Coronavirus has been showing a consistently rising trend in various states; a delayed action on the migrant workers’ issue has involved most of these states in huge movements of the laborers by trains, buses or by all means of transport including walking on the highways; possibly the biggest ever peacetime repatriation of the world taking place same time evacuating thousands of stranded Indians from various countries through planes and warships; the much-awaited stimulus package failing miserably to put some cash into the hands of the migrant workers and to help some severely affected sectors like the hospitality and tourism, promising only medium term to long-term measures and reforms at best; and still locking down domestic flights that provides safer sanitized services while trains have been running full capacity without social distancing norms.

It is crucially important for India not to lose the advantage the country had by imposing an early lockdown that, in fact, earned praise internationally, and therefore maximum caution and discretion must be exercised. With peak level of infection expected in June-July, 2020 India must ensure a controlled fatality rate while trying to contain infection through aggressive contact tracing, conducting random tests and strict enforcement of guidelines and precautions so that by the peak time the country’s limited but expanding healthcare infrastructure doesn’t go out of control. 


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