With cases rising after the lifting of the lockdown, some state governments are again considering the reimposition of restrictions. Rajasthan has seen a surge of cases since June 1 and ordered sealing of borders for a week. Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray has warned of a lockdown again if overcrowding and social distancing measures are violated. Delhi government is now reviewing its decision to open malls, eateries and religious places.
Given the huge hit the economy has taken, returning to quasi-lockdowns, this time under the auspices of state governments is not feasible. Social distancing is really difficult in India’s cramped living and working quarters, especially for the urban working class. Imposing a lockdown is easier for the government because this creates the perception that it ushers in social distancing as people are not free to move and thus cannot spread the infection.
It spares the government from the more intricate, labour and capital intensive tasks required to maintain a new normal like testing, contact tracing, containment zoning, more beds and doctors. Many people are yet to receive or internalise the message that masks can prevent the spread of infection to a significant extent. Instead of running public transport at full capacity, partial services have been run in many cities spawning artificial overcrowding. Tracing and containment zoning efforts have been porous and perfunctory.
Lockdowns induce complacency and a false sense of safety. It grounds both essential and non-essential services with service providers unable to move about. Learning to work with the new normal and devising strategies and implementing them on the ground is the real governance challenge. Governments that shy away from this paradigm shift will pay huge economic and healthcare costs at the end of this pandemic.