Dr S. Saraswathi
ore than five months have elapsed since we started the lockdown and are now in the phase of relaxing restrictions despite a huge surge in Covid-19 cases. India reported 79,000 fresh cases on 29 August –the highest number globally for a single day — when even USA recorded about 500 less in number.
The challenge with asymptomatic infection is intensifying with removal of travel restrictions and opening of public transport system. State governments are aware that the vigil against the infection has to be intensified. Truly, a novel experience of knowingly taking health-risk under economic compulsions!
Both the authorities and the people are visibly concerned about the inevitable consequences to be faced if people do not behave. Therefore, arrangements are being made particularly in workplaces and norms and guidelines are given with instructions to strictly enforce these. Unlock is accompanied with close monitoring of people’s behaviour.
The post-lockdown period is going to be tension-ridden with isolation, distancing, uncertainty, and inconvenience being thrust as normal in social life. Hereafter, following reports regarding the course of the pandemic must become a habit. The number of close face-to-face contacts has to be kept as low as possible and high risk activities as short as possible. Remote learning and work, introduced during lockdown, will tend to stay even after the demise of the pandemic.
Our hope lies in finding an effective vaccine against Covid-19. Lockdown has only a limited effect.
Lifting the lockdown or relaxing the restrictions does not mean that the virus is weakening. What it means is that hereafter we have to lead a double life, struggling to continue with normal activities and adhering to pandemic restrictions. Unlock 4.0 guidelines from 1 September cannot be read as lifting of the road block to the old and familiar pattern of life, like lifting of a curfew after a war and surrender of the enemy. Rather, they are crucial tests to assess what we have learnt about the pandemic, and how equipped we are to re-design our life to cope with medical emergencies. Unlock does not mean that we can run in the open as people do when heavy rains stop. Such unruly behaviour will invite re-imposition of restrictions in no time.
Active coronavirus cases have crossed 3.5 million in India. It is not likely to abate soon. Epidemiologically, India presents a picture of a continent of many countries. This is evident from the way it has spread in different states. Multiple strategies are required.
It is almost impossible to restore complete normalcy in human life and activities in any one country in isolation in this age of globalisation; and more so in any one state or district. Wholesale action and remedies are required. Protecting pockets of areas or people does not lead to eradication of epidemics. Ideally, immunity efforts have to be global and definitely national. Vaccines should be made available to all countries.
Disruption of routine health services may cause widespread damage as bad as the pandemic. Even the essential immunisation services for children are halted in many places. Institutional deliveries that have slowly been adopted in rural India are affected by diversion of medical attendants to Covid care. Routine check-ups for non-communicable diseases are postponed, thus increasing the risk of patients. It is time to restore these health services without loosening our grip over treatment and prevention of Covid-19.
The pandemic has stimulated a spirit of national self-reliance and has also pointed to the need for opening of supply chains and data flows for mutual benefit of nations.
The gravity of the infection intensifying global search for remedies, the importance of international cooperation in medical research is acknowledged. Indigenous systems of medicine must also be encouraged and assisted to manufacture resistance-building and preventive therapies. Covid-19 has provided opportunities to learn about our immune system and seek advice on healthy lifestyle.
It is the virus which will be winning as long as we do not have a thorough knowledge of the disease, potent medicine for cure and a vaccine for prevention. We are still in the stage of restraining the destructive capacity of the pandemic. Lockdown or Unlock – everyone has to remain conscious of the presence of the pandemic. Eternal vigilance is the price we pay for keeping ourselves healthy.
The writer is a former director ICSSR, New Delhi.