Prime Minister Narendra Modi has repeatedly reminded his compatriots about life after Covid-19 with facemasks. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has now said India will have to live with coronavirus as it is not going to go away. The statements reflect the understanding the political leadership has arrived at fighting the pandemic. This is all the more pertinent as the nation enters the third phase of the national lockdown. The new thinking is also reflected in the Union government’s decision to allow more relaxations in the third phase so that lives and livelihoods are protected to the maximum extent possible.
No human life is expendable, and the governments at the Centre and in the states will have to negotiate a tough path to save them all. Realistic measures that keep the virus at bay and allow people to go about their normal lives are the only feasible way forward. It will be a changed life, and it will be a new normal with which we will have to live hereafter. This is because while none questions the legitimacy of the lockdown, many had expressed the fear that the continued lockdown with stringent conditions will lead to more deaths due to hunger than due to the virus.
There are a number of models which the world has come up ever since the virus was noticed widely in China in January. One of them was imposing a complete lockdown in an entire region, practised by China and Italy. Then there are the Kerala and Bhilwara models, which came with aggressive contact tracing, screening, testing and quarantine of all potential patients. It also entailed virtual curfew in the entire region and quarantining all those who are a potential risk -- people who had an active contact with a patient or those who returned from hotspots-- while the rest of the people were asked not to venture outside. The strategy paid off well. Kerala, which reported the first infection in the country and once led the chart has brought the active cases to two digits now.
But there are doubts if the strategy works if the virus has spread far and wide. We may now need to extrapolate the model to address the changing demands.
The main focus of all successful models has been the human being, counting the last man on the street. The challenge now is to retain the focus while allowing economic activity to start. Experts now talk of concepts such as reverse quarantine where people of vulnerable age and those with co-morbidities such as high blood pressure, diabetes or heart ailments, are asked to stay home while the rest return to life and work strictly meeting social distancing norms. This model protects the potential victims and ensures that the health infrastructure can take care of those who fall ill. It’s an unusually dynamic situation that the virus has landed humanity in, and our response ought to be equally dynamic.