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Friday, May 29, 2020

India Lockdown: Are We Heading For A Messy Situation?



Disturbing thoughts are invading many minds of the people in India. Has the India Lockdown been somewhat compromised down the line? Have the governments decided to open up too soon? Are the on-going heavy spikes of new cases in several states of the country following the natural graph of COVID-19 spread or have these been the result of the said compromises? When is the migrant workers crisis finally going to end? Has the delay on part of government of India in dealing with the migrant workers caused irreparable harm to our fight against Coronavirus?

Unfortunately, answers are not at all forthcoming. We can only look at the developments with mixed feelings of doubt, regrets and trepidation. While India was still within the Lockdown in only its second extension the government of India finally decided to provide trains to shift the migrant workers to their destination states. However, after nearly a month the process is far from being completed with thousands of workers still trying to get any means of communication or waiting in the stations of cities like Mumbai and Delhi for days in the hope of getting trains. Matters are getting worse with the Railway Minister and the concerned states being embroiled in cross-allegations and passing the blame. With the heat wave hitting most parts of the country migrant workers started dying inside the roasting train compartments having no food or water for days; others suffering waiting in the stations without even a resting shade; still others commuting by whatever means and dying due to exhaustion or accidents. With the Lockdown continuing some of the workers who decided to stay on had to leave due to bankruptcy and eviction by landlords. Now, even the top court in India had to step in ordering the government of India not to charge fares from workers and to provide food, water and shelter for the affected whenever or wherever needed. So, this human tragedy shows on indication of coming to a conclusion.

Running hundreds of migrants trains the government had decided to start regular train services partially from 12th of May, still within the third extension of lockdown. Once you decide to open up trains the opening of domestic flights cannot wait for too long, logically speaking. Finally, domestic flights started from the 25th of May, despite objections by states that suffered the worst. Now, this all-round movement of huge masses of humanity is putting most states under tremendous pressure—to accommodate thousands in quarantine and protecting the local population from possible infections. In fact, the movements have contributed to the spikes of new cases in several states—some of which are still under strict curbs while some others have been gradually opening up. We take the example of Assam: the state was well under control with less than hundred infected; but after the various influxes of people infections have shot up to nearly a thousand in a matter of 3/.4 days, and the state having one of the poorest health infra could be reeling if the COVID cases cross five thousand. Delhi that showed an unusual hurry to open up has been having huge spikes, and Kerala—the model of the Indian fight—is beginning to have worrying spikes too.

One point is rather blurry. When a lockdown is extended some curbs do stay on for desired results; but it has been observed that these norms are changed or reversed well within the lockdown period when the rules still prevail, with or without the consents of the states concerned. Such moves can well be interpreted as compromises. Okay, from the economic point of view we are forced to ease some of the curbs, but not at the cost of creating possibilities for an uncontrollable spread.

For the last ten days India is having 6500—7500 new cases every day, and fortunately the death rate is still low at 2.8% which is one of the lowest in the world with Russia showing a rate just above one percent. Experts are saying that the Indian Corona peak is expected during June-July, 2020 and it has been observed from the experience of several countries that the COVID-19 virus starts showing spikes from its third month of spread and it continues for nearly a month after which new cases start stabilizing; but the disturbing question is whether that peak will take it out of control—at least in some of the states, and in that unfortunate event the low fatality rate would start rising ominously. With Lockdown 4.0 ending on 31st May, the general opinion that emerges is that in the containment zones the lockdown cannot at all be lifted while the process of easing the curbs would go on. Some states in contention for Lockdown 5.0 would be Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Telengana and others. But what about the states and union territories like Kerala, Delhi, Assam, Karnataka, West Bengal etc. that had already opened up significantly from the third extension onward? Well, the situation is far from being rosy at the moment, and depending on the unpredictable behavior of the virus it can worsen further or improve suddenly. We can only hope for the best. 


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