Coronavirus Lockdown: India Now Needs Mitigation, Not Suppression

Yeh Jo India Hai Na… it must move from suppression to mitigation in the war on COVID-19, and it must do so soon.

Published
COVID-19
3 min read

Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam

First, an important word – supression. And then, an equally important word, more important, actually – mitigation. And we must understand these words well to answer the two big questions:
1. When to unlock the lockdown?
2. And how to unlock the lockdown?

Supression

So, what is suppression? Attacking coronavirus with all we have, to suppress it! Complete lockdown – no air, rail or road travel. Everyone at home. Social distancing at a national scale. Business, industry, agriculture – all shut! Lakhs jobless. The economy at a standstill for 21 days to suppress COVID-19.

So has suppression worked? India had 500 positive cases when the lockdown started, and now we have crossed 7,000 cases! The numbers doubled every 4-5 days, not as fast as the US, but perhaps not able to suppress the way a nationwide lockdown should have. The learning is that suppression helps, but has its limits.

Mitigation

Hence, we arrive at this word – mitigation. This means that by being very well-planned, right down the district, taluka and block level, by using reliable data about the spread of the virus smartly, by implementing carefully targeted lockdowns, we mitigate, we limit the spread of the virus and minimise the loss of life.

Yes, suppression and mitigation, both are needed. But a country needs to know when to suppress and when to switch to mitigation. With limited testing capacity, with limited healthcare resources, with the number of cases and deaths rising, on 24 March, we did need a lockdown – to flatten the curve and to slow the virus down.

Mitigation Is a Political Hot Potato

But now, some are arguing that after the 21-day lockdown, Yeh Jo India Hai Na, it needs to adopt mitigation as its strategy against coronavirus. But, mitigation is a political hot potato. We hear chief minister after chief minister saying, ‘Keep the lockdown going.’ Here is every CM’s nightmare – lockdown is removed, social distancing is abandoned, positive cases and deaths shoot up again and CM saab is blamed by the public. The Modi sarkar, too, is facing this dilemma.

But you know what, now is the time for the Modi sarkar and the state governments to bite this political bullet, and do what’s needed.

There are plenty of mitigation plans for the government to pick from – the Bhilwara district model, the containment zone strategy, the Kerala model. Top epidemiologists and economists have all shared mitigation plans. Let me try to sum them up:

  • Unlock non-corona districts – of India’s 736 districts, less than 290 have coronavirus cases, so around 450 are coronavirus-free right now. Lift the lockdown in those 450 districts. Let the economy re-start there.
  • Phase-wise lifting of lockdown – focus on cluster containment, remove travel restrictions gradually, isolate the elderly, enforce social distancing in public places, offices, etc.
  • Planned community testing, in larger numbers, across the country, to identify fresh clusters in advance, and to check if earlier hotspots are improving.
  • Keep increasing our healthcare capacity, to ensure more recoveries and fewer deaths.
  • Economic measures must also kick in immediately, not later – expand MGNREGA, increase Direct Bank Transfers to the poorest, allow crops to be harvested and reach the mandis to be sold, defer income tax, GST and EMIs, emergency funds for MSMEs to stay alive, cheaper loans for business, industry, agriculture, for everyone really!

Doing all of this is mitigation. Tackling coronavirus and economic distress side by side.

Yes, mitigation is more challenging – needs more planning, needs collaboration between central and state governments, between ministries, between districts. Could that be why our chief ministers, why the Centre wants more lockdown, more suppression? Because they feel they may fail at mitigation? We don’t know. But can that be an excuse to keep extending a full lockdown? No.

The economic distress caused by extending a full lockdown will lead to job loss at a scale we’ve never seen before, will see lakhs of businesses collapse, could lead to crops rotting in fields or in mandis. This could lead to starvation, deaths among the poorest, to a new spate of suicides by marginal farmers. Would such deaths matter less than coronavirus deaths? No, both matter.

For politicians worried about negative political fallout, here’s a newsflash – failing to save the economy will cost them, just as much as failing to control coronavirus

And so, Yeh Jo India Hai Na... it needs to move on from suppression to mitigation, and it must do that soon.

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