Urban battlegrounds: Though areas worst hit by Covid need utmost hyperlocal care Lockdown 4.0 should be the last

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Cabinet secretary Rajiv Gauba’s interaction with municipal commissioners and district magistrates of 13 cities that account for 70% of Covid-19 cases points to clusters in these urban areas becoming focus areas in the day ahead. After taking 109 days to reach one lakh cases, it took just nine more days to add another 50,000 cases. India now has the second highest growth rate of positive cases among the ten most affected countries but a fatality rate of 2.9% is much lower than its peers. Patients needing critical care are proportionately fewer in India and these gains from the lockdown must be preserved as the economy opens further.

Easing of restrictions at the start of Lockdown 4.0 had permitted workplaces, markets, standalone shops and even takeaway eating outlets to open. Yet contradicting imperatives of the Centre and various states have made the resumption of inter-state air, train and bus services a chaotic affair. The limited opening of liquor shops was another example of how not to open, jeopardising physical distancing in the process.

While power demand has again surged to levels comparable with this time last year signifying the consensus on industries reopening, a long wish list of things still to open includes cinema halls in Karnataka, restaurants in Goa and metro services in Delhi. Telangana let all shops except those in malls open yesterday. While the onus is rightly on reopening, state officials shouldn’t go easy on two containment measures absolutely necessary for preventing the outbreak from escalating: wearing masks and testing. Messaging about the efficacy of masks in hindering virus transmission bears repetition without end until it becomes universal public habit. A few states are unfortunately showing lesser appetite for testing as their positive numbers go up. This defensive strategy could miss several infections that turn critical later.

Commissioners and DMs of the 13 cities singled out face an unenviable task. Some of these cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Ahmedabad, Pune and Indore form India’s industrial backbone. Restrictions that hinder economic activities are unsustainable for this reason. Identification of hyperlocal clusters, perhaps at ward levels, followed by sharply defined containment and buffer zones within them that allow effective surveillance but do not detain a disproportionate number of people from earning their livelihoods, will secure local cooperation. Success in these cities will help turn attention and resources to the next Covid battlefront: villages in India’s most backward states that are drawing back the migrant workforce.

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

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