India on Monday walked into the fourth extension of the national lockdown which began on March 25 in an effort to contain pandemic Covid 19, with Union government easing several of the crippling restrictions. The states have now been given the power to categorise infected areas as per the new guidelines of the lockdown which will now last till May 31. Apart from the containment, red, orange and green zones, the system will have a buffer zone around the containment zone. The new guidelines allow interstate movement of vehicles with the consent of the states concerned but domestic and international air traffic as well as metro services will have to wait. Religious, social and political programmes continue to be banned. Taken together, the new guidelines go by the demand raised by many state governments. And from that point of view, the new system is welcome: it’s ideal that the Union government put in place the larger framework and broader action plan and the states execute them with reasonable freedom.
However, two concerns remain. The government has not come up with a gameplan to tackle the virus neither in the first three editions of the lockdown nor in the fourth. Nobody has a reasonably clear idea about the path the rate of spread could take. The NITI Aayog, the government think tank, had talked about a mathematical model which projected the number of cases to be zero by May 16. But what has happened in the meantime put the projection on its head: not only had the number of cases crossed 100,000 from less than 500 when it was imposed; the rate of doubling has gone up by a bit. The government has ramped up the testing; and ominously, the number of cases also has increased. We have not seen an aggressive campaign in the hotspots nor have we seen implementation of successful models taken to others spots. A nationally coordinated effort, backed by procedures guaranteed by scientists and researchers, has been lacking from the beginning of the lockdown. Instead, the state governments were planning out their strategies while the Union government got itself involved in the micro management of Covid zones. This should have been the other way. The second concern, which has practically escaped the notice of the government, is the plight of the guest workers. With very little assurance on their future earning coming from the government, this worst affected class of people is likely to continue to their trek home. This could add to the spread of the virus. The government must realise that there are not many who have not been impacted by the lockdown; but none has raised a voice of protest, thinking that their elected representatives would manage it for them. Administrative measures such as lockdowns are easy to implement; but making the most of them calls for better planning. Time the government did some planning on the future of the virus, as well as the people who face death at the hands of the virus as well as hunger.