As a GP who has worked in a government hospital in India, I know the shortfalls of Indian healthcare system before lockdown. It was drastically underfunded with minimal basic facilities available. The services were not patient-centred and there was little time for patient education or counseling.
COVID-19 pandemic has been going on for long enough and there should have been a standardised plan ready for the government to implement as soon as the situation is reported to be getting worse. But even after a year, India seems to be not taking the pandemic very seriously. That doesn’t just include the government and the leaders but also the public.
As the first wave seemed to subside a little, leaders prioritised their rallies and elections over public health (1). This kind of poor leadership led the mass population to believe it is okay to move around without any precautions or restrictions. Infact, the Prime Minister considers national lockdown to be the last resort to contain the pandemic (1), while it is a well known public health measure for any sort of an outbreak all over the world.
I was talking to an acquaintance of mine the other day about the situation in India, and it was disheartening to hear them talk about it so nonchalantly as if it is of no concern to them. They believe the authorities are doing their best and that it is impossible to contain a pandemic in India as the population is huge and because India is too “underdeveloped” to even achieve that. While I could have argued with various examples of many actual “underdeveloped” countries overcoming pandemics and other outbreaks with the implementation of standardised measures, advocacy, phased restrictions and quarantine, I decided to not argue.
It is true that India is a developing country with little health infrastructure but it isn’t as bad as some other countries. While India is being supported by international aid and support from other countries as pressure has arisen, what India really needs is good leadership and better advocacy. The population is not going to take the pandemic seriously if the leaders do not take it seriously.
Many mention the effect lockdowns have on economy and justify the absence of lockdowns as a means to sustain the economy. However, the longer it takes to contain the pandemic, the slower it will be to recover the economy. Lesser the restrictions, lesser the work productivity due to widespread illness would be. That is not to say that the vulnerable populations are not to be supported. Relief funds should be provided to the most vulnerable during these times and small businesses should be encouraged to continue using e-commerce.
According to a study conducted in Turkey – “The application of lockdown by governments is thought to be effective on psychology, environment and economy with it being effective on COVID-19.”(3)
Additionally, we wouldn’t be in this situation if the economy had been better pre-pandemic. As it is said, what we do today, affects our future.
A few key highlights from an article on India’s economy:
“But India’s economy was facing headwinds well before the pandemic. Between April and December 2019, G.D.P. grew only 4.6 percent.” (2)
“India was expected to really step into China’s shoes and give that additional boost to globalization that was missing,” said Priyanka Kishore, head of South Asia at Oxford Economics. “And that’s where India didn’t really play out the role it was largely expected to play, and that role seems to be diminishing more and more.” (2)
“Since coming to power in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has shaken the economy with policies meant to boost government revenues and help India’s transition to digital banking. Some of the efforts have been embraced by business, such as Mr. Modi’s pledges to slash the country’s vast and tangled web of red tape.” (2)
“But other Modi initiatives meant to bring India’s informal, off-the-books economy into the open proved disruptive for many small businesses, which don’t have the resources that big companies can deploy to overhaul how they make payments and keep their books.” (2)
“One of Mr. Modi’s policies, called demonetization, banned large currency notes overnight in an effort to crack down on tax avoidance and money laundering. Under another, India replaced its welter of national and state taxes with a single value-added tax, in part to cut down on corruption among tax collectors.” (2)
“That stumbling economy was dealt a sharp shock by the coronavirus.” (2)
“Mr. Modi also increasingly turned India’s industrial policy inward, which many economists say has hurt overall growth.”(2)
“The near-total nationwide lockdown in March brought the economy to a halt, instantly stripping many Indians who rely on daily wages of any prospect of earning money. Millions of workers who over the years had been drawn to India’s urban centers for jobs started returning home to rural areas.”(2)
Finally, it is unethical to put lives at risk for one’s personal interests and political benefits. And is it moral to have your priorities so misplaced while the nation is facing an incredible crisis of this extent? While people are dying, the government is more concerned about the tweets propagated on social media about their governance (1).
For those blind supporters who believe the government is doing its best, I believe it can do a lot better. While there may be many implementation challenges, one may not know how to face them head on until it is actually implemented. A national lockdown shouldn’t be the last resort but the first step to save lives.