As the fourth lockdown comes to an end, there are concerns regarding outbreak in certain pockets such as Mumbai, Delhi and Ahmedabad. There is an argument for extending the lockdowns, at least in the confined zones to ensure that we can limit the spread of coronavirus.
There is another argument that is based on the premise that India had locked down before 1,000 cases and it makes little sense to lift the lockdown as we have 1.52 lakh confirmed cases (as of 28 May) of which over 64,000 people have already recovered.
Post every lockdown, the debate around whether to extend it or not continues even as states continue to fine-tune their respective strategies to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, by now we have adequate evidence, from India and even from rest of the world, to take an informed policy decision.
The first fact is that the total number of severe cases in India continues to be low.
The second fact is that the disease has spread mostly in urban clusters and that is where we need to redirect our healthcare capacity.
The third fact is that social distancing is indeed effective and has an impact on curtailing a rapid increase in the total number of cases in a short span of time.
The most important fact is that the vaccine is unlikely to be here until next year, and therefore, we cannot keep different parts of our economy shut until that time.
Every successive day of lockdown imposes severe economic costs and it further delays the process of supply chains repairing themselves.
It induces economic uncertainty that is adversely impacting the economic sentiment even as government unveiled a sizable stimulus package along with big-bang reforms.
That the lockdown must end is a no-brainer as the purpose of the lockdown was to gather information, prepare healthcare infrastructure and buy some time for an appropriate medical treatment to give promising results.
On all these three counts, the lockdown has achieved its objective and perhaps, the lockdown has overstayed its welcome.
The next question is that if lockdown needs to go, then how can we contain this virus?
It is precisely this where we need to focus on. There is an urgent need for stringent social distancing norms and mandatory masks for anyone in a public place.
These social distancing norms must be enforced stringently, which may be difficult, but is absolutely essential.
Additionally, we have to recognise that the SARS-CoV-2 has an impact on a particular homogenous group of individuals within a specific age group and those with co-morbidities.
It is precisely this group which is most vulnerable and needs to be protected while framing the social distancing guidelines.
It is very likely, the total number of cases will go up, but India’s impressive recoveries are an indication that perhaps we should not be as worried as we initially were due to the high mortality rate as reported in China.
The reason why it was high was precisely because the total number of Covid-19 cases was underreported, and not because the disease is as deadly as we anticipated it to be.
As lockdown 4.0 comes to an end, we have to recognise the costs that come with it and that the marginal benefit has diminished significantly for it to be even worthwhile to consider this move.
Some states may continue to resist the opening up of the economy, however, the Centre must put its foot down on this and allow economic activity to resume.
The author is a policy researcher. Views are personal.
This article was first published by Swarajya.