Whether Lockdown is the only Alternative?

Kishor Kumar Kalita

As a citizen of the world’s largest democracy, we must have to admit the fact that a backward, superstitious and impoverished country like India could not compete with developed nations in many aspects of polity, economy and over and above in the quality of sustenance of life. Indeed, we are very much dependent on those developed countries in scientific instruments, technology and particularly in medical science. Therefore, before imitating the strategies and ways adopted by the developed countries to combat a catastrophe, we should scrutinize and review those ways to avoid the negative consequences of such simulation.

This time when most of the developed countries of the globe assumed lockdown as the only measure to combat the Covid-19, India without appraising the adoptability of such measures in its own geographical context, announced the same for the country and has totally ignored to presume the unpredictable damages that may be resulted from a complete lockdown. As the Prime Minister Narendra Modi granted only three to four hours to its citizen to prepare for a complete lockdown, a sizeable population working in the urban and sub-urban areas, mostly the migrant workers, manual workers and the members of the unorganized sector, have to counter with a number of dreadful consequences. We have seen that thousands of migrant workers had to walk hundreds of kilometers to reach their native villages without any food and water and they had been harassed by the police and administration many times in the midway of their journey back home.

Here we have seen a transparent discrimination that violates the basic principle of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution. At the very beginning of this lockdown,   Uttar Pradesh Government sends a fleet of buses to Rajasthan to take back their students who had gone to Kota for coaching. Alike the UP Government, the Chief Minister of Bihar also afforded the same facilities to students of Bihar who have been trapped in Kota during the lockdown. But no government of this country offered any help to the migrant workers to reach their native villages and as a result of which large contingent of the poorest labourers and their small kids are made to walk hundreds of kilometers in the name of the lockdown policy. Similarly, the Union Government of India spent crores of money from its treasury for evacuating Indians from Wuhan, Italy or from Iran. They were quarantined in comfortable places and given all facilities to reach their homes. But in the case of migrant and other workers of the unorganized sectors, the state showed a perceptible apathy towards this class and they were forced to stay wherever they were and lathi charged for wanting to return to their homes. Such a discriminatory state practice clearly brings out an important fact to the light which suggests that the desire and voices of poor people of this country have no meaning and they are only useful in the vote battle.

Now the pertinent question is whether for India the lockdown is the only alternative to combat COVID 19? Here we may cite the example of some countries that have offered some alternative policies to lockdown. The South Korea, Singapore, Sweden are such countries where their respected governments instead of forcing their citizens to obey the stringent principles of lockdown, allowed them to move with certain conditions of social distancing and self-prevention. In contrast to the rapid socio-political panic that has been witnessed in other virus-hit countries, South Korea has demonstrated a very composed way of combating this unprecedented disaster. Since South Korea confirmed its first case of the virus on 20 January, health authorities of that country have given emphasised only in testing and social distancing to contain the outbreak. The World Health Organisation (WHO) also urged all countries to test aggressively, citing South Korea and Taiwan’s success at limiting coronavirus infections. Praising the success of the South Korea and Singapore the head of the Health Emergencies of WHO Dr.Michael Ryan has said, “We’ve seen examples in places like Singapore and South Korea, where governments haven’t had to shut everything down, they’ve been able to make tactical decisions regarding schools, tactical decisions regarding movements, and have been able to move forward without some of the draconian measures.”

Recently in an interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire, Dr.Jayaprakash Muliyil, chairman of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the National Institute of Epidemiology and former principal of the Christian Medical College in Vellore says “herd immunity is the only lasting solution to coronavirus. There is no alternative to herd immunity.” According to Dr. Muliyil, who is India’s most highly regarded epidemiologists, herd immunity means allowing India’s young population to expose themselves to the virus and build up immunity. He said for developing effective herd immunity approximately 60% of our population will have to acquire immunity, which will also cover the elderly, who are most at risk. In that interview, Dr Muliyil also said that once the lockdown is lifted, the virus, which has not disappeared, will hit us again. Therefore, lockdown could not be a permanent solution for combating COVID 19. In trying to build herd immunity, Dr Muliyil says India has a great advantage over countries like the US, UK, Italy, Spain and France because of the age profile of its population. Close to 90%  population of Indian are under 60. He says the experience of the virus in all other countries has established that people under 60, because of their resilience, either do not get infected or are infected only sub-clinically. However, a small percentage of this age group will develop the disease and an even smaller fraction of them will die. Dr Muliyil agreed that this is “the cost” that has to be paid to keep the rest of India safe. He accepted that this is “the sacrifice” India is asking of its young population so that the country as a whole can survive. In such a critical juncture before extending the lockdown for another unlimited period, our political leaders should rethink the suggestion of Dr. Muliyil for minimising the catastrophic economic damages that has resulted so far because of an accidental lockdown.