[avatar user=”Pradip Phanjoubam” size=”thumbnail” align=”left” link=”file” target=”_blank”]PRADIP PHANJOUBAM[/avatar]
Desperate times do call for desperate measures and the country wide lockdown we are in the midst of is one such. While for the rest of the country, the lockdown is for 21 days, starting March 25 and ending April 15, for Manipur which began its lockdown on March 21, it will be 25 days altogether. This by no means has been easy, and in the days ahead, will get tougher for the daily wage-earning poorer section of people and those employed in the informal sector with no earned leave benefits. For most in this section, who predictably will have little or no savings, it must be already an ordeal trying to keep their family hearth burning. The government of course is extending material aid to help them pull through the duration of the lockdown, though there have been complaints of many execution hiccups. The question is, what would happen after the current lockdown? The lockdown as we understand is to break the chain of the cycle of infection of Novel Coronavirus, the virus that causes the dreaded Covid-19 illness, with fatality rate of 1 to 3 percent, but this is hardly likely to eliminate it altogether as the WHO has also confirmed. The strategy is to slow down the rate of infection, or “flatten the curve” of infection rate so that the country’s public health facilities are not left overwhelmed and helpless, as we are witnessing for instance in Italy and Spain. This means for one, that the disease, or at least the possibility of its return, is going to remain with us for months and even years. If this is so, can the nation, and Manipur in particular, afford to keep extending this complete lockdown?
These are uncertain times indeed, and the events unfolding involve matters of life and death of not just one or two people, but of entire populations. The stakes being so high, it naturally would be difficult for any public leader to decide with certainty what path to lead the people on. Let us hence be considerate on those taking decisions at the top on battle strategies, though never stopping to point out where possible costly mistakes can occur or has occurred. This is the time for all, regardless of differences, personal or political, to stand united and fight under a single banner. It is with this resolve and thought that we advance this opinion on what should be the way forward, based on the experiences of other places which are or have already gone through the crisis, the statistics of which are now available. The best possible way of fighting this epidemic understandably is to track down the virus wherever it is likely to have reached as places like South Korea and China have done. This can only be so with extensive testing of people who are likely to have contracted the virus from exposure to regions already known to be afflicted, and then keeping them in quarantine of different rigours depending on their likelihood of exposure to the virus. As for instance, those remotely likely to be carriers of the virus can be home quarantined, those definitely likely to have the virus can be kept in government quarantine facilities, and those with symptom of the disease in special hospital isolation wards etc. Once this is done, there probably will not be the need for very strict and complete lockdowns, though all are made to keep social distance as precaution. This should have been done from the beginning. However, even now, after the lockdown period, which roughly corresponds with the incubation period of the virus, after a picture of the extent of the presence of the virus in our midst emerges, a realistic quarantine regime based on extensive tests can still be initiated.
This is important for two things mostly. One, if lockdowns are meant to “break the chain” of the virus’s infection cycle, it also means there will be no chain to break if there is no chain in the first place. If on the other hand, only small localised chains are identified, breaking these by keeping the affected areas or populations under quarantine should serve the same purpose as locking down the whole state, or nation, causing avoidable hardships to those with little or no means to last out these lockdowns. Two, this strategy will ensure more compliance to lockdowns when deemed necessary. If lockdowns become too harsh for any or all sections of the population, and hunger and acute malnutrition become life threats equal to the virus, there may even be another dimension of public chaos added, for there will be sections of the population which decide to break the lockdown out of compulsion. In the worst scenario, there may even be wide spread food riots, lootings and other crimes. These are difficult times and all individuals must be ready to bear hardships for the sake of all, but the calibre of public leadership will also be proven by the public policies introduced to meet the challenge. Very briefly, the battle ahead entails first of all sizing up the adversary. Second, but equally important is to size up the state’s available resources and then optimally use them so that the burden of this war is borne equitably by everybody.
Editor, Imphal Review of Arts and Politics and author