Let’s get one thing straight: India has NOT had a lockdown.When millions —millions! — of people walk across the land in groups, jostle in hungry queues, demonstrate in mobs, and gather off and on for various sorts of religious rituals, that is NOT a lockdown.What we have had is a patchwork closure accompanied by an economic shutdown.From Stockholm to Seattle, the world has been trying its best, in various ways, to find the right balance between shutting down and keeping the economy humming amid the COVID pandemic.Maharashtra Still Under Lockdown, But Green, Orange Zones to OpenIndia’s ‘lockdown’ has been cited in such debates as the ‘most severe’ in the world. That view is off the mark. Actually, India brought much of its economy to a grinding halt, without a comprehensive lockdown.Not that the starving millions are at fault. They are victims of callous elites who suddenly shut down their hand-to-mouth livelihoods without setting up safety nets or facilities for them to get to the presumed safety of their native homes. Walking was the only resort for millions of them.At first, I thought the trickle from cities to the countryside would last a few days and then we would reach an equilibrium in which everyone could stay put wherever they were for a few weeks of proper lockdown. But the trickle kept on and on. We have yet to find a workable equilibrium between ensuring livelihoods and slowing the spread of the pandemic.‘Thoughts With Kashmiris in Lockdown Within Lockdown’: ChidambaramIndia Must Go Beyond ‘Copycat Syndrome’ In COVID FightThe problem has been a lack of original thinking. Many of those in authority simply copied what other countries were doing. A total lockdown could work in countries like Italy or Spain, where almost everyone lives in a proper home and has some reserves of food and money.India’s middle classes are comparable. Ironically, they did not even need a formal order to lock down. They began to isolate themselves almost immediately after the WHO declared a pandemic.Much fewer cars than before were on Delhi’s roads in the couple of weeks between the pandemic declaration and the prime minister’s imposition of a ‘lockdown’. And taxi drivers said they had very few passengers during those days.When I called in a neighbourhood plumber a week before the lockdown, he too told me his work had dried up. Get whatever plumbing work you want done, he said, for he planned to take a train to his village in Odisha.A restaurant I visited six days before the ‘lockdown’ was half empty. The manager said that very few people had been coming over the past few days.During those days, grocery stores across middle class colonies were besieged with people buying large amounts of grains and other provisions, as if they were preparing for a famine. Gated communities had put up notices and hand sanitisers at lifts. Some even regulated entry.So, the middle classes were going into semi-isolation in any case. And several state governments announced restrictions over the weekend before the prime minister’s announcement. Delhi, for instance, was going to have only limited public transport.MHA Withdraws Order Asking Employers to Pay Wages During LockdownWhy a Partial Shutdown is the Best ApproachRather than a lockdown, it might have been better in light of the middle class’ spontaneous self-isolation to only shut educational institutions, salons and spas, malls, and other places where large numbers gather, while stepping up the barrage of messaging about best practices.We seem to have finally come around to more or less that from today, in what is being called Lockdown 4.The poor must be allowed to return to work in the myriad urban micro establishments and in agriculture. Much of the bumper rabi crop was wasted. That must not be allowed to happen to the kharif. The last thing we can risk is a famine.No doubt the infection rate will increase. In many cities, hospitals are already overstretched. Some people will die without medical attention. It is encouraging that at least the indigenous production of masks and ventilators has got going.The best possible videos on home care of patients must be prepared and widely circulated. Meanwhile, more hotels and railway coaches must be turned into COVID-care facilities. Perhaps science students could be trained for patient care, to supplement the efforts of health care professionals.FAQ: Is Lockdown Relaxed In My State? What Rules Apply From Today?Balance Between Economic Activity & Social Distancing Must Be AchievedSadly, much damage has been done since 24 March, both to the economy and in terms of disease spread. Since many governments failed to come up with in-situ welfare programmes, as they ought in any calamity, more and more people ran out of money and food. So they decided they had no option but to risk the awful trek home.In the first half of May, the Indian Railways transported one-and-a-half million people to their native places.They went from cities like Mumbai that had by then become major COVID-19 hotspots. They would have transported the virus long distances.Of course, there was no option by then. A badly thought through — nay, not thought through — initial attempt to lockdown had left the government with no option. That it was done heartlessly, charging fares which many of the migrants could not afford, is another story. But it meant that many who could not afford the fares continued to trek— only, more fatally this time.Those who were now walking were often the weak and infirm, who had resisted the awful walk but only got weaker every passing day as money ran out and food was short. The heat had picked up meanwhile, making staying, as well as the journey, even more arduous.Now that trains are taking millions home, we might actually be able to achieve a total lockdown in a couple of weeks. But the economic cost of that would now be unsustainable. We need to find an equilibrium between economic activity and social distancing.A Pandemic of Notifications: Major Challenges During LockdownAdopting Modi’s ‘Atmanirbhar’ MottoWe must do so in the spirit of Prime Minister Modi’s self-reliance message, restraining our tendency to copy what other countries do.Some police officers copied video scenes of entertaining and cake-sharing police patrols trying to keep spirits up during lockdowns in the West. In a context in which millions are starving, and getting beaten by policemen for trying to walk home or get some food, such PR attempts seemed obscene.At the outset, a couple of South Indian police forces had made fabulous educational videos about hand-washing through song and dance, which became virally popular across the world. On the other hand, the copycat PR shows became a shameful foil for the horrific brutality police forces visited on those weak and hungry poor citizens trying desperately to get home.We must now gird for the long haul ahead, for the pandemic is likely to be with us for another couple of years, as per some reports.A number of flights have brought people back from various parts of the world. It is possible that more virulently lethal strains of the coronavirus may have come back with them. India hitherto appears to have got away with a relatively low death rate despite inadequate health facilities even in the biggest cities.It is imperative that we soberly learn from our mistakes, improve our systems and protocols, and vow to work unitedly to overcome both this calamitous affliction and the potential economic collapse.(The writer is the author of ‘The Story of Kashmir’ and ‘The Generation of Rage in Kashmir’. He can be reached at @david_devadas. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.) We'll get through this! Meanwhile, here's all you need to know about the Coronavirus outbreak to keep yourself safe, informed, and updated. The Quint is now available on Telegram & WhatsApp too, Click here to join.