Monday, 15 August, 2022

Recalling Lockdowns

Parmeshwar Devkota

As we have felt respite after the Delta variant of coronavirus gradually came under control, its new variation – Omicron - began to haunt us. On November 26, the World Health Organisation announced the emergence of Omicron that was detected in South Africa. It has several mutations and highly contagious in comparison to other variants. Till date, it has been found in over 20 countries, including India, so the world is anxious to avoid it.
Our authorities have said that they have initiated preliminary measures to fight the new variant. Some may speculate imposition of lockdown and other prohibitory orders to cub it but there is slim chance of such draconian step against the pandemic. It is now wise to recall the rationale of previous lockdowns.

The second lockdown enforced from 29 April to 21 June 2021 can be considered rationale on two grounds: First, the authorities had confirmed the second wave of the pandemic before imposing it. Second, it was lifted in some cities and districts where it did not pose a big risk. The lockdown continued to remain in those places where the infection rate was high.

Amid confusions and fears, the ‘smart lockdown’ was introduced to allay the fears of citizens and provide relief to business and industrial sector. But there was restriction on mass gatherings, opening of schools, gyms and barber shops. It was innovative approach to tackle the virus as well as give a new lease life to the business hit hard by the pandemic.

If you recall the first lockdown, it was imposed hastily. There were only two cases of COVID-19 till March 24, but there was no death. However, the government imposed nationwide lockdown from 24 March to 21 July 2020. The five-month-long lockdown caused immense negative impact on human psychology, national economy, education, social and individual affairs of a family, society and the nation as a whole.

Its impact on trade and business is huge. It interrupted the chain of supply in villages and cities. The prohibitory order also incurred irreparable losses to travel and tourism sector as well as infrastructures and reconstructions. It was reported that over 200 firms related to tourism were closed down

The citizens, who had been eking out a living with difficulties, came to the streets for food. The government, on the other hand, lost revenues worth billions of rupees. More than 20 people committed suicide a day during the extended lockdowns. The majority of citizens, who faced utter hardships, were from business realm. This shows that the blanket lockdown throw the society out of gear.

So, the lockdown should not be imposed on whims. There should be logical basis for this. It must be noted that the WHO has said that Omicron is more contagious than Delta but it has not yet confirmed that it is deadlier than the Delta. Until and unless the new variant turns fatal, lockdowns should not be imposed. We should learn from the experience of Bangladesh and Pakistan. They imposed lockdowns in the areas where the cases were surging, but allowed the working class people to work following safety measures.