The government’s decision on Friday to extend the national lockdown for a second term of two weeks from May 4 must be seen as a statement that India has entered a decisive stage in the fight against coronavirus and that the nation can look forward to a day when it opens itself up to normal life and activity. The latest announcement that comes with a comprehensive package, including a fresh set of guidelines to categorise districts as red, orange and green based on cases of Covid-19, doubling rate, extent of testing and surveillance feedback, offers the first signs. The 130 red districts, which include almost all the metropolitan cities, will continue to be on lockdown while there will be phased relaxations in the 284 districts of the orange and 319 of the green zones. The government has also decided to run special non-stop trains that will carry home the lakhs of migrant labourers who have been trapped at their places of work thousands of kilometres away from their villages. The six Shramik special trains started service on Friday, the day of the announcement, with the promise that the fleet will be expanded if the experiment is found successful.
There has been general agreement that the lockdown, a debilitating but unavoidable measure, has paid dividends. The spread of infection has refused to follow the pattern many worst-affected nations took, though there are still apprehensions about the rate of testing. The rising rate of recovery, which today stands at 25 per cent, is another reassuring piece of data. The government has reminded states to focus on the work left incomplete in the red zones by initiating necessary action for containment so as to break the chain of transmission of the virus. It is now evident that the Union government has a definite gameplan against the virus and that it will assume the role of the key strategist and coordinator, which is the right way forward.
One sore point in India’s battle against the pandemic is its neglect of the real poor. The government had announced relief for them in the form of grains, pulses and cash but reports from various parts of the country say only a tiny fraction of the intended people have received the aid. The announcement of lockdown gave millions of people no time to get prepared for the ordeal; they were fully at the mercy of the government. The failure on the part of the government to reach out to them is unacceptable. Even the latest package easing restrictions does not address them. True, the government has to focus on the containment of the virus, but it cannot be done at the cost of human lives, which should be at the centre of its scheme of things. The government must immediately take corrective action and ensure that the benefits it had announced reach the needy with no time to spare. Containment strategies and long-haul lockdowns will make sense only if they are able to help save humans from misery, inflicted not only by a virus but also by hunger.