Will India Extend or Lift the Lockdown? Considerations

  • Experts say that without doubt there will be an increase in the number of cases once the lockdown is lifted.
  • Graded approach to lift the restrictions can still help prevent a huge spike in cases and create a concomitant strain on the healthcare system.
  • Any strategy adopted for lifting restrictions should bear in mind that the actual number of people who have been infected is many times more than the laboratory-confirmed cases.
  • While extending the lockdown in hotspot areas appears not only prudent but also essential, there should be more focus during the remaining days of the lockdown on silent areas that have not reported any case or just a few cases.
  • These States would not need a continued lockdown, once the true infection prevalence is ascertained.
  • It is important to segregate essential and non-essential activities and encourage more people to work from home till such time as an effective vaccine or anti-viral becomes available.
  • Universal mask wearing, physical distancing and observing hand hygiene will help in curtailing the spread; but these will not be practical in slums and other crowded neighbourhoods.

What about Herd Immunity?

  • Herd immunity arises when a sizeable population gets naturally infected over a period of time so that the virus does not easily find a susceptible host to infect, thus bringing the epidemic to a halt.
  • Strictly following containment measures, wearing a mask and maintaining physical distancing not only slow down the rate of infection but also the rate at which herd immunity is achieved naturally.
  • The mutations that these viruses undergo make most people susceptible to infection, however, the novel coronavirus appears more stable.
  • WHO cautions that there is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection. Infected people may have some level of protection against the virus, but the level and duration of protection is still unknown.

Determinants

  • Increased surveillance of those exhibiting severe acute respiratory infection (SARI), influenza-like illness (ILI) and any COVID-19 suspect cases in the silent areas will help determine if restrictions should be eased or continued after May 3.
  • The decision on whether to continue the restrictions or not should be taken at the local level; a centralised approach to decision making will be hugely counterproductive.
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