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India's 'Lock-Unlock-Relock' policy needs a relook

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Mumbai hit a record number of 11,163 Covid-19 cases and 25 deaths on Sunday. This has prompted the Maharashtra government to roll out a slew of strict restrictions, including night curfews and weekend lockdowns. The government has, for some time, warned of such a measure. Now, for most people, the concern is how to survive through the economic cost of the near-lockdown, rather than worry about how the virus can harm their health.For a low-middle income country like India, lockdowns and other such restrictions have a skewed impact. They seem to protect the rich and those employed in the organised sector who can work from home, but unfairly cause hardship to the less well-off, who have to step out of home to make a living. Having a lockdown without providing monetary compensation to the worst-affected is unjust. It warrants a judicial review of such measures.While there are fines imposed on violators of restrictions, there is no promise of any minimum daily compensation to those whose livelihoods get lost during lockdowns. Can’t governments come up with more inclusive measures to contain the epidemic?Besides, which restriction is justified during a pandemic and which isn’t is a question that needs a proactive review. How much sense is there, for instance, in imposing night curfews? Who compensates constituents of the ‘night economy’ that get adversely impacted due to such curfews?The worst threat is from the precedents set by the pandemic. Lockdowns — impinging upon the individual right to livelihood — are likely to become knee-jerk tools in the hands of governments to penalise any real or perceived misconduct of the public. The scope of police and law enforcement bodies to harass people under various pretexts immensely widens in case of lockdowns and other restrictions. Post-pandemic, can governments — at the Centre as well as states — vouch against adopting measures that are prohibitive in nature and threaten to unfairly impact everyone?For a country with the average life expectancy of about 69 years, and a per-capita annual income of Rs 1 lakh, one year of restricted living can potentially have a long-term impact on the quality of life and economic well-being. Where average school going students regularly don’t meet the learning outcomes as envisaged by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests, what will be the impact of one year of scratchy education supposedly undertaken through digital means? Has there been any impact analysis done of the various restrictions imposed by the governments? In the absence of any such exercise, the ‘Lock-Unlock-Relock’ policy needs a clear relook.Witnessing the government’s response for curbing the pandemic, one may become hopeful of a swift action to attack similar health epidemics like tuberculosis, obesity, diabetes and hypertension. But can we expect the same level of alacrity in the post-pandemic healthcare systems in India? How fair is it for a developing country like India to behave like a developed country in imposing restrictions to contain a healthcare crisis without providing the corresponding relief measures to the adversely impacted population?Early on, India adopted stringent measures, including a nationwide lockdown, without any corresponding relief to migrants, women workers and artisans, the worst impacted. The Rs 20 lakh crore stimulus package announced by GoI in May 2020 was touted to be little and remote. In contrast, the US promulgated several legislations such as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, and the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021, costing nearly $2.4 trillion, to provide direct economic assistance to US workers, their families and small businesses. China became the first country to introduce stimulus measures towards Covid relief. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimated over $732 billion to have been announced by Beijing towards discretionary fiscal measures.It is undoubtedly important to curb the spread of the fatal virus. And lockdowns and other such restrictions may, indeed, be sound containment measures. But they are unfair to the majority of the janta, which is left to fend for themselves. What kind of a cure for infection is it that cripples the body for a long time to come? In the current scenario, for millions, the risk of getting economically wiped out is far higher than the health hazard of getting infected by Covid-19. It’s a difficult choice not many would want to be given

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