22 March, on this day, Prime minister Narendra Modi had announced ‘Janta Curfew’ – a warm-up exercise right after which India went into an extensive lockdown, by that time, we were at 250 cases. In just three months, India climbed more than 150 places to reach where it is today, as the 4th most infected country in the COVID-19 tally. By 1 July, Coronavirus has penetrated in its all 28 states and 8 UT’s, killing more than 16000 of its citizens.
Up until the start of April, many media outlets worldwide praised India’s coronavirus strategy. Then, what went wrong, how did we reach here?
The first coronavirus case was reported on 30 January, two months prior to Janta-curfew. About a month before India started monitoring ports around the same time, temperature checks were initiated.
The world adopted mainly two strategies to combat with coronavirus first be the lockdown to arrest transmission, and another is aggressive testing. However, none emerged as a foolproof measure against the COVID. In some Scandinavian nations, a combination of both found to be much more effective than them alone.
A limitation with lockdown strategy is it can’t be in place forever. The government probably played on the premise that either we or any other nation would discover a drug, by the time the practicality of lockdown comes to an end. In a densely populated nation such as ours, lockdown can only buy some time and couldn’t serve as the only preventive method against a pandemic. India’s lockdown was some of the strictest in the world, and this did help the government to avoid a total health care system collapse. It took us almost two full months to reach 1 lakh cases mark, much slower rate of infection as compared to other nations.
In a country of 1.3 billion, contact tracing can be a mammoth task, especially when people themselves were frightened of the virus. Days before the lockdown, many gulf returnees who were confirmed COVID positive and had travelled in the train did not co-operate with police; some even switched off their phones. As the numbers grew, contact tracing per case became impractical. Now, when the cases are more than half a million, contact tracing mainly/solely depends on a smartphone app “Arogya Setu,” at a time when smartphone penetration in India is 25.3%.
About a week into the lockdown, the Tablighi jamaat incident happened. India witnessed the highest ever surge in the number of corona cases in a single day, more than 2 thousand cases. Many jamaati returned to their hometowns, which included tier 2 & tier 3 cities, this made the pandemic to stretch its cover into pan India. However, there is an undeniable responsibility of the Markaz organizing authorities but even more on the government, both central and the state. How did they miss any information about an event of such enormous gathering, defying all instructions was happening in the National Capital.
India has a large scale unemployment problem for years, mainly because the service sector, the largest sector of the Indian economy, can accommodate so many people, but not all of them. As a result, a large section of Indians depends upon the informal sector, some partially or wholly. The government did make apprehensions of a migrant crisis but did not take any concrete action besides postponing the crisis. They issued instructions to the state governments to make arrangements for their meals and shelter. The informal sector in India suffers mainly due to the lack of education among the workers and insufficient and improper documentation. A shortage of accurate data leads to ineffectual schemes, such as cash transfer schemes, ration, etc.
The risk involved with such large-scale migrant worker’s movement was much lower during the initial days of the lockdown. Shramik special trains were started on 1 May when total COVID cases were 34,862, and by the end of the month, total cases skyrocketed to 181,827. This could have been avoided as the lockdown strategy, up until this point, was successful in flattening the curve.
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