Time to Ease the Lockdown in Phases (By Ashwin Tombat)

By Ashwin Tombat
12 April 2020 09:56 IST

At midnight on Tuesday 14 April, India’s rigorous 21-day lockdown to slow the spread of coronavirus comes to an end. Will the lockdown be lifted? Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made it clear that it won’t; that the priority of his government is to “save each and every life”.

A lockdown that enforces physical distancing is the only way to slow down the Covid-19 pandemic. But India badly bungled imposing this lockdown; not just because the PM gave people just four hours notice (most European countries gave 48 hours notice). He also completely failed to anticipate the massive exodus of migrant workers from cities.

We will know only by the end of next week whether these lakhs of marginalised men, women and children have carried the corona virus infection to their villages. The country simply cannot afford to make similar mistakes while relaxing the lockdown.

On Wednesday, the Goa cabinet decided to recommend an extension of the lockdown till 30 April. It’s not the smartest decision they could have taken.

Goa’s seventh and last Covid-19 positive case was detected on Saturday 4 April. No new cases have been detected since then. Each and every one of these cases can be traced. While it is no doubt important to keep the state’s borders sealed for the foreseeable future, there’s no reason why the lockdown cannot be lifted in a phased manner within Goa, starting Wednesday 15 April.

Kerala was the first state in India to record a positive Covid-19 case, in January, when a medical student returning from China's Wuhan tested positive. But statistics show that Kerala is presently the only heavily affected state in India that is clearly on the path to recovery.

For a long time, Kerala was second after Maharashtra in the number of Covid-19 positive cases in India. It has now dropped to ninth place, behind Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Rajasthan, Telangana, UP, MP and Andhra. It’s the only state that has actually succeeded in “flattening the curve” of Covid-19 cases. Obviously, Kerala is doing something right.

The Kerala government has compiled a phased roadmap for exiting the lockdown. The first phase, from 15 April, applies only in districts that find not more than one new Covid-19 case in the week starting 7 April, and have no more than a 10 per cent increase in the number of persons under home quarantine during the week.

Goa meets all these requirements.

In the first phase, residents are not allowed to leave home without face masks and ID cards. Only one person is allowed to leave per household, for not more than three hours.

Most shops and private firms are allowed to work with 25 per cent attendance, provided employees have masks and premises are sanitised. Malls, theatres and bars, as well as shops that sell jewellery, textiles and electronics remain closed.

Those older than 65 years with hypertension and diabetes are not allowed out. There are odd-even restrictions for private vehicles, with none allowed on Sundays. Air and rail movement into the state is disallowed; state borders are closed.

Gatherings are limited to five persons. No religious congregations or visits to places of worship are allowed. Weddings and funerals are restricted to 10 persons.

The second phase, starting 1 May, applies to districts with a maximum of one new case in the preceding fortnight. In the second phase, buses, auto-rickshaws and taxis are allowed with restrictions. All micro, small and medium enterprises reopen with full strength but physical distancing in this phase.

The third phase, starting 15 May, applies to districts that have had no new cases in the preceding fortnight, and have reported at least a 5 per cent reduction in the number of people in home quarantine.  It introduces limited inter-district bus transport and domestic flights for essential passengers, doctors, health workers and patients.

Non-resident Keralites are allowed to return, but anyone entering Kerala must undergo a 14-day home quarantine. Educational institutes are allowed to open only for exams. Malls and all shops can function with curbs. Religious congregations, large weddings, political meetings, conferences and gatherings continue to be prohibited.

In case any district that was opened in an earlier phase fails to meet the requirements for the next phase, it goes right back into lockdown.

Three measures are kept in place until 30 June – mandatory use of face masks outside the house, mandatory permission for weddings only for 25 or fewer guests, and prohibition of large gatherings. Air-conditioning, unless needed for medical reasons, is banned.

A five-member high-powered expert committee headed by Narayana Hrudayalaya founder Dr Devi Shetty has recommended to the government of our neighbouring state, Karnataka, that it should lift the lockdown in phases. The committee believes that the government should plan a phased exit at two-weekly intervals, adding that it should continue Section 144 prohibitory orders only in “hotspots”. Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa recently said that the state intends to allow liquor sale after 14 April in districts that are not Covid-affected, to increase state revenues.

These are states that are much worse affected than Goa. Why can’t this state also move to ease the lockdown in phases – starting only with those talukas that have no cases if necessary – and make life easier for the common Goan?

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

Blogger's Profile

Ashwin Tombat

Ashwin Tombat has been the Editor of Gomantak Times and Herald. Worked as an Associate Editor of national magazine Gentleman in Mumbai, before shifting to Goa. Loves sailing, also participates in Marathons. Has worked as an activist in students's union and trade unions in Maharashtra. Also an artist of Street Theatre during student days.

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