Hold on! Easing lockdown restrictions must be done slowly

Since the world woke up to the bad news of a ‘cluster of cases of pneumonia’ in Wuhan in China’s Hubei province on December 31, 2019, lots have changed. A virus, SARS-CoV-2 belonging to the Corona virus family has gone on to take the entire world hostage through a pandemic, which the WHO christened COVID-19.

After devastating China by infecting 82,947 and felling 4,637, it crossed borders to infect over 5 million, and claim over 326,000 lives worldwide thus far. India wasn’t spared. There wasn’t a reason why she should be. The nation was, after all a sitting duck with a population of 1,387,297,452, with a third of them living in slums, which in Indian terms truly meant living on each other’s laps! Unhesitantly, the virus commenced its death dance over the nation. The first case was reported on 30 January 2020.The count now stands 111,601 infected and 3,426 dead.

The world disadvantaged with limited knowledge of the virus, especially about ways and means to halt its marauding ways, in the meantime deciphered its mode of transmission. Clearly, a human being could infect another through the respiratory route, and by touching another with the infected hand. The medical world and healthcare providers left clueless concluded that the only way to stop the viral spread was to keep man away from man.

Like never before in human history, man was asked to limit his contact with the one next to him, and even to get away from him, or her, by at least a meter. Dearth of specific treatment, and an effective vaccine demanded of the human race to avoid crowds, wash hands, and avoid spitting and blowing the nose in public.

The good old adage ‘no man is an island’ had to be shelved in the interest of self-preservation. Humanity needed to stay put. Potential human carriers of the dreaded virus had no business to move about transmitting it. And the only way to do it?

Locking down men and women in their abodes, or wherever they existed. India did that at the bidding of her Prime Minister starting 25 March 2020. He had a nation of 135.26 crores stand still. David of the biblical times had at least a stone sling to fell Goliath. India had none to take on the virus. But she could choose to prevent the pandemic from killing her citizens by staying put. Modi did just that, wisely. With the lockdown seeming to work, with disease in India not assuming alarming proportions as in other nations, and with reluctance of a fauji in battle frontlines to let go off the trigger, the lockdown was extended twice, but at a price.

Indian economy already on crutches ground to a halt. Almost. Educational institutions remained shut. Exams were postponed or cancelled. Children and youth rode a hairpin bend in lifestyle. There was no place to ‘hang out’, or ‘chill’. No swanky theatres with nauseating stink of stale popcorn to watch movies. Oldtimers missed hairdressers to trim their locks. The planet seemed to have returned to her ‘factory settings’! Students’ future looked bleak, and unemployment reigned, setting off panic among migrant workers, who had left home for greener pastures within India. Unemployment and expiry of visa set off alarm bells among Indian expatriates working abroad. Indians displaced within India and outside yearned to return home. They had to be welcomed back, as it was their right.

Patience of Indians who had cooperated commendably with three phases of lockdown seemed to be caving in, expectantly. Businesses had to restart. Public transport had to resume. Schools and colleges had to reopen. Avenues for entertainment had to open doors. Places of worship had to be cleared of cobwebs, and their door hinges greased. Life, as the world and nation had got used to, had to up its shutters.

But the viral death dance hasn’t died down. Indians continue to take ill and perish. Men and women in the white coat remain clueless as they were back in late December of 2019. With no vaccine to confer heard immunity in sight, and treatment modalities viz; convalescent plasma therapy, use of multiple anti-virals, role of prophylactic hydroxychloroquine sowing confusion than sanity against COVID-19, the only option before humanity is still to stay put, especially Indians, as migration of large numbers are taking place from outside India and within.

These people, moving into and within India have commenced journey from viral hotspots outside and inside India. With stark reality about the ignorance about the virus and its treatment looming large, easing restrictions of the lockdown in India must wait till (1) the mass migration is done with, and the contour of the viral graph ascertained. Factors like different viral strains gathering into the specific regions from other countries and states, and compliance of those coming in, in observing governmental directives remaining concerns, time has to be given to study the trend. Moreover, Kerala which had flattened the curve has dealt a shock already with the curve beginning to raise its head once more like a threatened snake, with influx of her citizens from other nations and states.

And (2) every viral hotpot within the country is sanitized. India cannot afford an encore of America which taught the world that shooting off the hips, one-upmanship and living in fool’s paradise, weird dreams and misplaced brashness will only lead to death and damnation.

Cover Image: A popular and usually crowded mall in Kochi, deserted during the lockdown

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