When the lockdown was announced in India on March 24, we had around 570 confirmed cases and approximately 10 deaths due to Covid-19. On May 17, the National Disaster Management Authority extended the lockdown until May 31. At that time, the total number of cases was touching 91,000 with nearly 3,000 Covid deaths. It is anyone’s guess what the figures would be on May 31. One can argue the rate of infection has slowed down a bit, but that is hardly any consolation.
When the entire country was at a standstill, with factories, airports, railways, road transport and offices were closed, the virus managed to infect almost a lakh of people. Either, we have failed miserably in containing the spread or the actual figure of infection when the lockdown was announced was many multiples of 500. The lockdown is no cure for the virus infection. It only provides precious time for the government to prepare the society, to improve its infrastructure to cater to the explosion in infection and to train the people in living with the virus until a vaccine or a cure is found.
Only a naïve optimist would suggest that we had successfully utilised the lockdown period. The galloping rates of infection point to the contrary. We have squandered away the opportunity. There has been no substantial jump in the availability of hospital beds, isolation wards or ventilators. If the present rate of infection is an indication, assuming it would remain the same even after lockdown ends, which is unlikely, we would have a full-blown crisis by the end of July that would rival what USA is facing. That is what many experts are predicting.
Continuing the lockdown infinitely is a solution that is worse than cure. The unfolding tragedy in our streets is heart-wrenching. If the lockdown continues, the misery that is walking on blistered feet of migrant labour on the streets, would sooner or later come knocking on the doors of the middle class and the privileged. The long line of the poor on long march is the ocean withdrawing before a tsunami.
Since experience has proved that there is no stopping the virus, lockdown or no lockdown, perhaps it is time to change our strategy. How long can we afford to stop all activities and sit locked at home? The food would run out, fuel would run out and we would trigger more deaths due to starvation than the virus.
We need to learn to live with the virus. Coronavirus is not the first virus to infect humans. Civilisations have faced much serious virus infections from plague, smallpox, Spanish flu etc and lived to tell the tales. When smallpox hit, it was the infected who was locked away and not the entire world. Conduct test, isolate and quarantine vigorously, but shutting down everything indefinitely is no solution. If we see the death rates, it is lesser than many other epidemics. To put things in perspective, WHO reported in 2019 that close to 180 crore people were active carriers of TB in the world and in that year alone, 15 lakh died of the disease, close to the yearly average for last few decades.
In comparison, coronavirus has claimed 3.25 lakh lives so far. The reason why Covid-19 has created such a paranoia is because it killed more people in the west. TB, dengue etc are the headache of the developing countries and do not trigger a global lockdown. What is happening now is a run on our hospitals. Not everyone who is affected by Covid needs hospitalisation. Majority recover without any treatment. By crowding the hospitals, sealing apartments, creating panic and locking down the country, we are creating a situation that no one can manage. How long can we keep sealing streets in a crowded country of 135-crore people? How long would hospitals postpone treatment of other patients and reserve the precious beds for those who have something akin to common cold? It is time to prepare for a return to normalcy while keeping basic email@example.com