The COVID-19 outbreak has caused a huge impact on economies and societies across the globe. As Governments and communities tirelessly work towards navigating the challenges created by this pandemic, efforts must be prioritised to maintain continuity of service delivery and make strategic shifts to ensure that the increasingly limited resources provide maximum benefit to the society.
States have taken up several proactive measures to manage and mitigate the spread of this pandemic. It is necessary that, in these testing times, holistic planning and solutions are implemented with the highest efficiency towards containment of the spread of the pandemic and building a more resilient society, prepared for future eventualities.
A strategy of the lockdown can be implemented only when there is:
A sustained reduction in cases for at least 14 days.
Hospitals in the State are safely able to treat all patients requiring hospitalisation without resorting to crisis standards of care.
The State can test all people with COVID-19 symptoms.
The State can conduct active monitoring of confirmed cases and their contacts.
We need to consider the plan on a coordinated, regional basis through multi-state co-operation. While state and local governments maintain sovereignty over issues related to their public-health response, coordination based on regions that share cross State boundaries will be crucial.
Divide the country into three zones — green, yellow and red — depending upon exposure risk to the disease. Green Zone, the safest, could be opened up to most of the core economic activity; in the yellow zone, production could start at a small scale; and red zone, or areas significantly impacted by COVID-19, should continue to be in lockdown for some more time.
The following variables must be considered while removing the lockdown: population density; risk of infection (infection ratio); economic activities (begin from least developed areas to most developed ones).
Governments should identify territories that have been free of cases after 21 days of lockdown, which is the maximum incubation period of COVID-19. If no new cases are spotted in a geographical territory, which could be a group of villages, a city or a district, that territory can be treated as free of COVID-19 and the lockdown can be eased gradually.
Active surveillance and disinfection drives have to be continued in the affected areas, during the lockdown, and before the lockdown is eased and if new cases are identified, a rethink on the relaxation should be called for instantly.
To prepare communities to accept the concept of external quarantine and for their support, adequate information campaigns must be run. This will ensure willing compliance of people living in identified territories in avoiding travel outside, and in reporting any case of violation of travel restrictions. Information campaigns can be run to encourage people to continue to practice preventive measures of personal hygiene and social distancing to maintain such a sterile status.
The widespread availability of COVID-19 testing devices, so those infected could be quickly detected, and suspected could easily determine if they are. Implementing the testing, tracing and treatment pattern strictly in all states.
Supreme levels of hygiene would need to be maintained for all such exercises. For this, India must assure an adequate supply of masks and other personal protective gear to all risky areas.
Lockdown and stay-at-home directives must be stratified depending on local risk assessment. Workplaces, schools and localities are to be opened in phases.
Large gatherings, functions, religious congregations, etc. must be avoided until we are certain to have captured all the existing active cases and are being tracked.
All inter-state and inter-country passenger travel must be closed (roadways, railways, airways and waterways, etc.) until the virus is contained. Only official travel should be allowed with a strict screening process.
To preserve its COVID-19 free status, the localised area should be quarantined, restricting and regulating all movement to and from it outside that region.
Technology should be put to use by tracking through smartphone apps and compensating employees for the risk undertaken by offering wage support.
A supply chain system that could take the essentials to the house of people quarantined should be brought in place, to minimise their movements as much as possible.
The Trade and Industry department should sit down with private-sector associations to agree to a procedure to ensure that employees are screened (or even disinfected) before they enter their workplace, adhere to the social distancing norms at all times. During the initial period, a workplace with more than 50 employees must be avoided.
Once a minimum set of employees return to work and firms resume operations, older employees can continue work from their homes.
When the lockdown is partially eased during the initial phase, the sectors shall open on a rotation basis of hours and days and follow the guidelines to avoid mass gatherings.
The ₹1,70,000 Crore Financial aid announced by the FM is only 0.9% of the total GDP of India. This budget can be extended during these unusual times to cater to the livelihood of the poor and the most vulnerable section of the society.
The adoption of these measures will require a careful balance. We will need to constantly reevaluate the implementation of these measures based on available surveillance data and we will need to be ready to adjust our approach over time according to the epidemiology of local, national and global spread.
The Centre has complex operations to plan and coordinate. Its need to work with various States adds to the task’s complexity. But we must leave no scope whatsoever for mishaps. Nor for overzealous use of strictures and surveillance, both of which need to have their expiry dates defined by some public criterion.
People who must endure containment need special care, not the scare of police drones summoning batons. Hotspots must not begin to feel like open-air prisons. India has done well so far in its fight against COVID-19. However, as Prime Minister said, it will indeed be a long fight. We, as citizens should follow and support the government to help them contain the virus soon.