–Kakali Das |
It is a very difficult question to answer. On the one hand, we have the people suffering from the lack of employment, people who are starving, on the other hand, it is the havoc engendered by the virus upon the people and their lives – we are now with 2,16, 827 Covid19+ cases across India. In Delhi, the people who used to work as house maids are now begging for food.
Has the initial lockdown prevented us from being 20 lakh cases and if we are easing the lockdown now, does it mean it will soar from 2 lakhs to 40 lakh cases dramatically?
Let me put few things in perspective regarding whether or not the relaxation of the lockdown is appropriate at this point of time. From the medical perspective, the time is certainly not correct since the cases are on the rise. In addition to the government imposed lockdown, there is a self-imposed lockdown of the healthcare workers. To get the healthcare workers back in place in order to rejuvenate the paralysed healthcare system is of utmost importance at this hour. The hospitals are running on less than the required number of beds for the patients. The public healthcare system is overwhelmed. The major question that arises now is – If there is a large spike in numbers, can the public healthcare system take it? When there seem to have no such errors in the healthcare system, it’s then the good time to start relaxing the lockdown and allowing people to work under complete precautions. The only way this epidemic will stop is when we hit crores of positive cases. How will the disease be stopped till there are enough people who have had the sub clinical infection?
Secondly, if it won’t be opened now, it won’t be possible in the monsoon season as well, as we are anyway going to be hit by lot more infections such as, dengue, malaria, etc. It’s a major time to start ramping up the healthcare facilities (the government has already failed if they haven’t focused in it for 2 months now). Lockdown can seldom treat coronavirus. The initial decision for a general lockdown was an un-studied decision. It created the public health crisis into the humanitarian crisis. There is a certain class-character to this Covid19 issue – initially the people who brought in the cases were the upper-middle or as we say, elite classes. They were all put to quarantine; they could afford to be at home seldom working for months. For the complete lockdown, the informal or the migrant workers – which is 80-90% of the workforce in the country – were the ones majorly hit. The lockdown, actually, protected the rich than the poor; the poorer ones survived for almost 15-20 days post which they couldn’t. They couldn’t live on charity further; the government had food stocks but couldn’t reach them – they failed tremendously. The NGOs and the civil society organisations, in many ways, tried to curve the hunger catastrophe. The focus has been on the wrong side according to me. Treatment of coronavirus won’t be the lockdown, but the building up of more healthcare facilities. The healthcare system is already over-burdened. The lack of political will to take action on the ground is the major disaster in the country. Many state governments have merely made statements and announcements regarding taking over of the private hospitals, but no other governments apart from Assam have executed that on the ground. No mention has been made of the countries namely, Mongolia and Vietnam, the outstanding examples – they took all the decisions too early – Mongolia, in fact cancelled and put a halt to all the flights from and to China in mid-January itself. They executed it even before they had their first Covid19+ case. Their decisions were well thought of and properly scrutinised which resulted in huge success. There were no deaths in both the countries so far.
The biggest challenge that the healthcare system is facing now is of manpower. The government is more inclined towards strengthening the top rank of the ladder, of recruiting doctors, but not the foundation. The hospitals have been running with more part-time workers, no full time housekeeping staff; the nurses have been resigning from their works. When there was an implementation of the emergency act or an epidemic act, one of the things which the governments should have done was to boost up the paralysed union – there are terrible videos of KEM Hospital, Mumbai, of nurses who have gone on strike and there are three resident doctors managing 30 critical care patients. Many specialised doctors have signed in and have voluntarily accepted to work as nurses. It’s pathetic to witness that there is no one to administer the institutions at this point. These have been shouted out from rooftops, printed in daily newspapers but with no response from the government. Such dire are the circumstances now on ground. It is very easy to announce and withdraw a lockdown; it’s a populistic move but how about solving the real problems?
Otherwise, it’s, for me, the right time to open up, since it is the summer season, probably the best time for people to have the exposure. The graduated opening now is the only way through which life can return to the state of normalcy. One can’t water a plant after it’s dead. Many industries won’t be able to stand on their feet if it’s not resumed to life now.
To put it in a nutshell, this business of lockdown is no lockdown; none of these matters unless we are able to equip up the support staff and strengthen and empower the doctors on the ground – both public and private – unless we are able to provide enough testing, across the population.