Sticky Lockdowns: Centre’s discarded prescription has been embraced by states. But for how long, and to what end?

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Centre’s guidelines for the second phase of unlocking remove restrictions on inter-state movement of persons and goods. But quite a few state governments are harking back to the lockdown approach to combat rising Covid-19 cases. Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Assam, Karnataka and Manipur figure among states that have imposed lockdowns with stringent measures directed at major cities like Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru, Kolkata and Guwahati.

Endless cycles of lockdowns still finding takers after nearly 100 days is worrying. It postpones big spurts of infections but not for too long, while taking a hammer to livelihoods. An expert committee of epidemiologists had advised the TN government to focus on raising awareness, increasing testing, tracking and isolation of positive cases instead of lockdowns. This approach requires administrative diligence and hard, labour intensive work but will repay itself many times over. Contrast this to lockdowns, which an epidemiologist in the TN panel rightly described as a blunt instrument that ought to be used carefully, and has outlived its utility.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, yesterday, repeatedly cautioned against carelessness and called for steadfast adherence to wearing masks and social distancing measures while extending the free supplementary food grains scheme till November. Indeed, citizens have a central role to play in the alt-lockdown strategy by wearing masks, washing hands frequently, avoiding close contact and crowded, indoor spaces. Testing also needs ramping up till positivity rates show sustained decline over several weeks. TN may lead the country by a wide margin in testing, but that is no solace given steady positivity rates over 10%. Countries that bent the Covid curve have consistently kept test positivity rates below 1%. Unlike those countries, India’s containment measures will span several months because of poor governance and fewer resources. Masks, not lockdowns, will save time, effort, lives and livelihoods.

This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.

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