Why in news?

India has responded to the spectre of large-scale transmission of the novel coronavirus and the unprecedented public health catastrophe it may bring by ordering a full national lockdown.

Why and How?

  • The goal is to flatten the transmission curve and help a frayed health system cope with a large number of cases.
  • Physical distancing of people, ensured through a suspension of rail and inter-State bus services, closure of public places, cessation of all non-essential activity and street-level monitoring, is the first order priority during a pandemic and the lockdown can ensure that.
  • The options being used by States to enforce this are Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 and the Indian Penal Code.
  • What must follow is the galvanizing of governmental machinery to address essential requirements.

How the Janata Curfew Turned out to be, and What we can learn?

  • The Janata Curfew on 22nd March 2020 saw near-total compliance, but culminated in noisy public celebrations.
  • It was also marked by a last-minute scramble among migrant labour stuffing themselves into trains to return home ahead of the shutdown.
  • Many hundreds more remained stranded in several cities, crowding termini, as train services were withdrawn.
  • These hapless people, who must largely fend for themselves, have been potentially exposed to the pathogen; some may have unwittingly infected others.
  • The week-long lockdown ahead cannot become a similar exercise in chaos, confusion and misery.
  • As a war-like moment in the country’s history, it calls for massive preparation with all hands on deck to mitigate the impact on people, and to formulate a public health response for the period beyond the shutdown.

Duty of the Governments

  • Governments must aid people during this difficult phase and prepare for wider testing.
  • Governments have a duty to ensure that the most vulnerable classes, economically and socially, including the elderly, have access to essential articles including medicines, close to where they live.
  • Considering that about 37% of households depend on casual labour as their major source of income for rural and urban India, and nearly 55% have tenuous regular employment, as per Periodic Labour Force Survey data for 2017-18, it is essential for governments to ensure that they get subsistence wages for as long as restrictions last.
  • Funds transfers during the containment phase of the pandemic, followed by a stimulus to sustain employment are necessary.
  • But a bigger challenge stares India in the face: can it get a universally accessible testing system in place to prevent transmission when the lockdown is lifted?
  • China, South Korea and Singapore, as WHO points out, adopted a strict shutdown, but used the breather to get a grip on infections by testing at the population level.
  • This is the hard work that lies ahead, and it will test the mettle of India’s national and State governments.
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