Disaster Management in India after lockdown
Pandemics are not new as such, but the one that has shook the entire globe is definitely the latest one Covid-19. The spread till date has been so fast that it has almost brought the entire country to a standstill. Each country is fighting its own battle to fight against this pandemic with its own strategy. It started with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsein Loong announcing shutdown called Ďcircuit breakerí to reduce the spread of Covid-19. This was eventually followed by all the affected nations in its own way. The intention behind such decisions was primarily to try and prevent or at least curtail, the spread of the virus by limiting social interactions. This is because social interaction typically influences the rate at which a pandemic, especially a respiratory virus pandemic spreads.
Coming to India, it has been a remarkable as well as challenging journey for us till date. But timely decision making so far has helped India to be ranking in relatively low spread countries. In India, the 21-day shutdown that began midnight on March 24 has involved closing workplaces, shutting most public transport systems, shutting educational institutions, severely curtailing movements and gatherings of people and asking everyone to stay home. But effectively implementing a shutdown in a country of over 1.2 billion people, from diverse socio-economic conditions, comes with its own set of challenges. Overcoming these challenges calls for coordinated, empathetic action by governments across the country, even as we throw everything we have at controlling the virus. This shutdown was further extended on 14 April 2020 by 21 more days till 3 May 2020. Surely, this is not a small thing not only from country wide health perspective, but also from economic perspective.
Yet, we also need to think about the future ó not just medium or long term, but also the next few weeks and months. We need an exit strategy or post-shutdown plan that protects our wellbeing even as it bolsters our economy.
Once the lockdown is eased, it is more challenging for the country to ensure that for few weeks and months to come, considerable discipline is maintained. It must be ensured that the infection rates are zero after lifting the lockdown. The reason being that even a single infection case can reinvent the wheel altogether.
It is crucial that the mobilized availability of relevant public health resources are made available even after lifting the lockdown. The onus is on us citizens also to use all our public health resources, including more testing, to curtail the spread of Covid-19 and ensure that the infection rate stays very low. At the same time, we need to recognise that the virus could probably linger in pockets for some time to come. Therefore, we must be part of the global effort to develop preventive vaccines or medicines that treat Covid-19.
Awareness is already there about this pandemic from kid to elder today due to the widespread and disaster taking place all over. But correct awareness of the necessary measures to eradicate the spread of this pandemic is important. And this awareness has to be made to bring a permanent behavioral change in the country as a whole. Social distancing, to an extent, is better developed as a habit or ritual, as far as hygiene aspect is considered. Saying this, I do not mean, becoming non-social altogether permanently. But the level of social, we are, it is better be careful.
The country can launch a massive education campaign. Itís not easy to change our behavior in the best of times. But at this moment, behavioral changes such as adopting basic hygiene practices or staying away from one another are vital to control the spread of Covid-19. Of course, given the conditions that large sections of our population live in, adopting these practices isnít easy; so we need to create alternatives where possible. Some measures can definitely help us avoid such pandemic in the long run. For instance, just imagine the situation where we would have been self-disciplined and responsible for our acts as a citizen of the country and deliberately followed the instructions of home quarantine, for those who were first to travel from any other country to India, probably the situation would have been different. Better late than never. We can at least follow these norms going forward. Carrot-stick approach will no more work during such disastrous pandemics. It is our duty to work hand in hand with the Government and support their efforts. This is why we need to invest more in campaigns to advocate responsible practices ó cleaning hands, physical distancing from other people, staying at home when asked to and so on. Such behavior needs to become second nature; something we all do on our own, without any coercion. While governments have already launched such campaigns fronted by celebrities, perhaps itís time we considered innovative options including applying behavioural insights to these initiatives.
Gradual easing of shutdown is very important. Even after 3 May, if the lockdown is lifted, it is very important to exercise the same gradually in step by step manner. Even if all goes well and the number of Covid-19 cases in the country stays relatively low, it makes better sense for the government to lift restrictions only gradually and cautiously. This is important to ensure there is no immediate resurgence of the virus from increased social interactions. Remember guys, whatever measures are taken, are for our safety and betterment and we are not in prison whatsoever.
Mental health is another area of significance to be looked into. The biggest disasters and challenges can be managed collectively, if the mental health of the country is in place. The biggest disaster is incomplete or half knowledge at the outset. Half battle is lost. Hence mental awareness campaigns will need to be set up everywhere in a systematized manner so that people feel safe and are not too skeptical about things. There is a difference between awareness and fear. Awareness has the biggest power of knowledge with it. So it needs to be taken care that requisite knowledge about the situation is made available among the citizens of the country, be in urban or rural area.
The most talked about after effect all over is about the economic impact the lockdown will have on the country and the measures to cope with it. First and foremost thing is that it is very important to be optimistic about the times to come. Controlled resumption of the economic activity is to be considered. Some of us can work from home, but some activities do not have that option. Hence, from economic perspective, it will become crucial to reopen key sectors of the economy with strict physical distancing, hygiene norms and other controls in place. The reopening has to be carefully planned and even more carefully executed.
As individual, there are some measures which can uplift or support our economy in its own way, which can be contributed at our individual level. For instance, buy from local vendors. Buy Indian products. Support the farmers by buying their products. We are the ultimate mass who is going to decide or shape our own economy. Right from digital format to physical products, we have Indian substitutes available with us. It is we, who can determine to uplift and support our own economy, so that Indian economy bounces back and achieves victory in this challenging times too.
India is a treasure of talent, determination and hard work. It is only the collective trust of the country as a whole, which will bring our country to its golden era after this testing times. We are already the prime exporter of the Hydroxychloroquine to more than 108 countries across the globe. Donít you think that it shows the good times to come? We have already developed that trust among other countries to collaborate and deal with us.
The way our country is handling this pandemic under the guidance of our Honorable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, we are seen as an example to be replicated. We should take this positively, when we approach to the post lockdown era.
Every cloud has a silver lining and these opportunities should be taken as that silver lining. Together, we can conquer and this time will pass too and new horizon will follow.