Lockdown and beyond-THE HINDU-24-03-2020


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. 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. What must follow is the galvanising of governmental machinery to address essential requirements. This was certainly not in evidence on Sunday during the janata curfew, which saw near-total compliance, but culminated in noisy public celebrations.

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. 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.

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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