Even if the COVID-19 does not infect the people of Manipur, the lockdown to fight the COVID-19 has hit-hard the people mostly daily wage-earners and private sector employees who are fighting for a square meal.
Manipur’s lockdown which started from March 21 has completed sixty two days on May 21 while India completed 58 days which started from March 25 after the Government of India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered on March 24 a nationwide lockdown for 21 days to flatten the curve of COVID-19 pandemic.
How long will the lockdown continue? How long will the people be confined at their homes? When will the people be allowed to move in the streets without restrictions? When will the daily wage earners and those working in private sectors be allowed to work to survive? These few questions are amongst endless questions being asked by the people under lockdown to fight COVID-19.
Is lockdown only the means to fight COVID-19 pandemic? How are other countries and societies fighting the COVID-19 pandemic without lockdown? Are there not other means to fight COVID-19 without lockdown? These are some questions we need to ponder for places like Manipur where COVID-19 positives are not found locally. All the 25 persons tested positive till May 21 are returnees from COVID-19 infected cities in India and abroad. Then, is it still reasonable to lockdown the people who are not infected by the COVID-19?
Even in India’s worst-hit state of Maharashtra, significant relaxations have been allowed in areas outside the red zones and containment areas in the nation-wide lockdown 4.0 in the COVID-19 fight.
In Maharashtra, taxis and auto-rickshaws have been permitted to operate with two passengers. Four-wheelers are allowed to ply with three people in total, but no pillion riders for two-wheelers. Buses have been allowed to operate only within the districts categorised under the green and orange zones. Standalone shops and private offices are allowed to open maintaining social distancing.
In highly infected Indian capital New Delhi, auto rickshaws, taxis, cabs and other last mile connectivity vehicles with limited number of passengers maintaining social distancing have been allowed.
Significantly, movement of even private vehicles with not more than two passengers in a four-wheeler and not more than one rider on a two-wheeler vehicle have been allowed in Delhi in the lockdown 4.0 effective from May 18.
Meanwhile another COVID-19 highly infected state of Karnataka has announced reasonable relaxations that would support day-to-day life coming back to normal, while certain high-risk activities would be restricted.
Local public transport mediums except Metro rail like BMTC buses, cabs with 2 passengers and auto-rickshaws with 2 passengers with adequate social distancing measures in place have been allowed.
A new life has come back in Karnataka by opening all kind of shopping establishments except those in malls.
In Karnataka, unrestricted public movement has been allowed between 7 am and 7 pm, except on Sundays.
However, almost total lockdown is still in force in COVID-19 green zone state of Manipur where only 25 returnees from the cities of India and abroad tested positive till May 21.
While reasonable relaxations have been made in most parts of India in lockdown 4.0, total ban of public transport and public movement are still enforced strictly in Manipur.
Even people working in essential services are exempted according to the orders issued by the Government of Manipur are not allowed to move hassle free.
Meanwhile, retailers and wholesalers within Imphal West district including Imphal city are allowed to open from 6 am to 2 pm only with effect from May 22 with the exception of retail markets located at Dharamsala, Thangal Bazar and Paona Bazar according to an order issued in the late hours of May 21 by District Magistrate of Imphal West District.
However, people are not allowed to go beyond their local markets even if they can’t find the essential commodities they need to buy. Vehicles are also not allowed for local marketing.
Effective from May 22 only in the lockdown 4.0, the retailers are allowed to procure essential commodities and other related items from the whole sale market by district wise rotation as per the schedule notified earlier vide Office Memorandum bearing No. 9/6(1)/2020-H(Pt) dated 30th March of the Home Department, Government of Manipur.
Consequently, the state-driven economy of Manipur, that too with ninety percent of its revenue, including grant-in-aid, coming from the centre has been totally paralysed by the lockdown.
In earlier findings and analysis by social science researchers, the economic loss of Manipur in a single day when there was a bandh or general strike or economic blockade was estimated to be Rupees 33 Crores. Then, the total economic loss in the last 62 days of lockdown is 2,046 Crores at least because during bandhs or general strikes and economic blockades there were at least some economic activities including border trades were not affected much.
Farmers who produce vegetables and small vendors who sell them are now worst-hit irreparably.
The State Government now needs to learn lessons from other countries like South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam and Sweden where there were no total lockdown in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic successful significantly.
The most important lesson we should learn is the three important Ts that dictated Korea’s success in this battle thus far, has been: Testing, Tracking and Trust. ‘Test, test, test’, WHO’s message to the international community came in the backdrop of Korea’s successful attempt in flattening the curve of positive cases, having one of the highest rates of Corona testing in the world.
Significantly, Manipur Health Department officials also said that there is no possibility of cluster spread of COVID-19 in Manipur.
Therefore, the most needed and unavoidable one the State Government should do is not to spread COVID-19 from the returnees. The strict maintenance of social and physical distancing, safety measures & hygiene of quarantine centres following Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and guidelines of Indian Council of Medical Research strictly; and Increasing Tests will help fight the pandemic NOT by Just Lockdown.
Lockdown was supposed to slow down the spread of the Novel Coronavirus while preparing for the COVID-19 battle. Two months is more than enough for preparation!
The State Government should create an environment consulting the experts in various fields, right from the farmers, daily wage earners and people working in the grass roots to the top medical experts.
Since we have to learn to live with COVID-19, a new normal has to be evolved creatively and realistically; and people needs to behave adapting the changing situation.
Now is the time for a New Normal sans Lockdown.
Senior Editor: Imphal Review of Arts and Politics