After a lot of dillydallying, Government of Telangana has finally yielded to the clamour to impose a lockdown in the State. Starting from Wednesday, the State will be under lockdown for 10 days, in a bid to bring down the rapidly increasing COVID-positivity rate as the second wave of the pandemic rips through the country.
A distressing shortage of oxygen cylinders, ventilators and ICU beds, incessantly ringing helpline numbers, fervent pleas on social media for Remdesivir, hospitals turning down admissions, and a patchy vaccination drive are characteristics of the times. With more than 4 lakh fresh cases recorded on Monday, no one knows when things will start getting better.
Though the courts, as well as many international experts, have been pressing for a country-wide lockdown for quite a while, opinion is divided – the Government seems to be worried about the socio-economic impact such a move could have, while medical experts claim the vaccination drive will give us the advantage in the fight against the virus.
Is the State Government’s lockdown decision the right way forward? While some cite reports indicating that despite a few other States imposing a lockdown, there has been no fall in the number of COVID-positive cases, others feel a lockdown will certainly help.
Justice Chandra Kumar, a former High Court Judge, is emphatic that a lockdown is necessary. Stressing that the economy can be revived after a lockdown but not lost lives, he points out that Article 21 of the Constitution of India confers on citizens the ‘right to live.' A short-term lockdown is the need of the hour to save lives, he says. “One month of lockdown is required to get things under control, reduce the spread of the virus and treat those infected,” he adds.
Advocating the Japanese work culture as a means to revive the economy, Justice Chandra Kumar explains that “In Japan people work doubly hard to increase production and compensate for losses.”
While upholding the right of the Courts to direct the governments, the former Judge says, “Protecting the lives of the people is the primary duty of the government, and the right of the people too.
Even as thousands of new COVID-19 cases are being added daily to Telangana’s tally, former High Court Judge, Justice Tamada Gopalakrishna questions the need for elections and political and religious gatherings to have been held.
“All these mass gatherings have led to this current situation,” says Gopalakrishna, and blames the Government for the present crisis situation.
On the other hand, Dr M. Yadagiri Rao, former State Secretary, Indian Medical Association (IMA), is not in favour of imposing a lockdown.
He says that as on Monday, only 17 crore doses of vaccine were administered in the entire country, and less than 10 per cent of the population have so far received both the mandated vaccine doses. Dr Rao fears that a lockdown might hamper the current vaccination drive.
He also stresses the need to overcome the scarcity of vaccines, hospital beds and COVID-19 medication. “These issues have to be simultaneously coordinated. The Supreme Court has constituted a Task Force to create a mechanism for the distribution of oxygen to the States. If the oxygen availability issue is resolved, patients will become confident about staying at home instead of panicking and scampering to hospitals,” he says.
Onus on the Government
Aparna Rayaprol, Professor and Former Head, Department of Sociology, University of Hyderabad, says that since a complete lockdown might trigger migrant labour problems like last year, government should ensure that the lockdown is only a temporary measure. She points out that the pandemic is a serious problem and that the seriousness should be reflected in the State’s response. “The lockdown will give a psychological feeling that there’s something wrong,” she comments, adding that, the onus would however be on the government to ensure that the employers pay the labours before a crisis point is reached.
Dr Santosh Kumar Kraleti, Senior Public Health Specialist and Member, National Medical Commission, also favours a lockdown situation where essential services and activities are permitted.
He feels people should equip themselves with a pulse oximeter, thermometer and spirometer at their homes to quickly assess their health condition.
“During these times, I also want the government to actively and strongly communicate with the public so that there’s no scope for misinformation,” he adds.
A collective responsibility
“Is it only the government’s responsibility? People are collectively responsible for this situation. The government has been telling people to follow all the health protocols, but they turned a deaf ear. Democracy works well only if the society is mature. I think people should act responsibly and politicians should educate their followers about the significance of health protocols.”
— Justice Kodandaram Challa, High Court of Telangana