NEW DELHI: As the nationwide lockdown imposed to contain the spread of COVID-19 comes to an end after 40 days on May 3, India could emulate what South Africa is set to do one week from now.
The 21-member national task force on COVID-19 management under Dr V K Paul, member (health) Niti Aayog, is examining a risk adjusted strategy for opening economic activity gradually, adopted by the South African government, that could be suitable for India.
The model says that there will be five clearly defined levels of alerts on economic activity that will need to be adapted to epidemiological trends and may need to be relaxed and tightened in different periods across districts.
South Africa had imposed the nationwide lockdown on March 26—a day after India—and is set to ease restrictions from May 1.
“We are looking at the lockdown amendment strategy from South Africa which reiterates that a systemic opening of society is required in order to get the economic wheel moving while ensuring that there is no massive resurgence in infection rate,” a member of the task force told The New Indian Express on condition of anonymity.
The strategy suggests creating an “alert system” -- depending on the rate of viral transmission and health system preparedness -- with four to five levels in every district which will allow for flexibility and responsiveness. Sectors and companies would know what activity is permitted depending on the level imposed at any time.
It suggests that government can switch between levels and can use mass communications platforms -- such as an SMS notification system -- to signal this to the public.
While level 5, which signals high virus spread and/or low readiness, calls for a complete lockdown with permission to operate only essential services, level 4, reflecting moderate to high virus spread, with low to moderate readiness, will mean borders will still remain closed and only travel to repatriate foreigners abroad or take Indians back will be permitted along with limited economic activities,
At level 3, indicating moderate virus spread, with moderate readiness, there will be restrictions on several activities, including at workplaces and socially, to address a high risk of transmission.
Level 2, meaning moderate virus spread with high preparedness, will allow some leisure and social activities with stringent physical distancing and other requirements to prevent a resurgence of the virus, while at level 1, with low virus spread and high preparedness, most normal activity can resume, with precautions and health guidelines followed at all times.
The 27-page document that categories various economic sectors for risk of transmission also says that restrictions on sit-in restaurants and bars, conferences and convention centres, entertainment venues such as theatres and concerts, sporting events and religious and social gatherings will remain in place after the lockdown. Not more than 10 people will be allowed to gather anywhere beyond a workplace regardless of the level of alert at any given time.
The model also suggests certain rules like allowing people to work from home whenever possible, permitting those above 60 or with comorbidities to also work from home or be on paid leave, checking symptoms related to COVID-19 of people at their workplaces every day and maintaining strict social distancing across sectors and on all alert levels.
Those who have been against the complete shutdown of society welcomed the development saying that the government’s messaging should be clearer on the need for strict physical distancing in days to come when the restrictions are eased.
“A scientific graded approach is a must as the threat of the pandemic seems here to stay but people should also know the dos and don'ts clearly,” said Sulakshna Nandi of Jan Swasthya Abhiyan.