Days after proclaiming that Delhi won’t go under lockdown yet again, chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on April 19 announced a week-long lockdown to curb the resurgent coronavirus outbreak. AAP supremo Kejriwal had then reassured the citizens that the current lockdown would be short-lived and not as prolonged as the last year’s nationwide lockdown. A month later, Delhi is still under lockdown and there are no signs of its removal.
On Sunday, i.e 23 May 2021, Arvind Kejriwal announced that the lockdown in Delhi has been extended by another week till 5 am on May 31. The Delhi Chief Minister did hint at the unlock process, but it came with a caveat—If there is a sustained decline in the number of daily coronavirus cases, the process of unlocking will be initiated. For now, the lockdown will be in place, and the unlock process will also be slow, said Mr Kejriwal, highlighting the need for caution in the wake of the third wave of the coronavirus outbreak.
The announcement of another week of lockdown came even as the positivity rate in Delhi has dropped to 2.5 per cent from a whopping 36 per cent back in April when the outbreak in the national capital seemed to be at its peak and more than 25,000 new cases were registered on a daily basis. 1,600 new cases were reported in Delhi on Saturday, a marked decrease in the daily COVID-19 cases.
The number of cases has substantially dropped, the reported deaths have also seen a downward trend, even the COVID care facilities in Delhi have been significantly augmented, resulting in the increased number of hospital beds, streamlined supplies of medicinal oxygen and key drugs, and yet the Delhi government has shown little inclination to blow away the lockdown cobwebs and, if not completely, but at least partially remove the restrictions.
Nevertheless, AAP persisted with another round of unnecessary lockdown in Delhi, continuing to exact an economic toll on the Delhi residents already ravaged by the coronavirus outbreak. However, AAP’s call for another week of strict restrictions does not jibe with its support for the farmer’s protests.
Even as Delhi residents are expected to remain hunkered down in their homes, owing to the extension of the lockdown, Delhi Minister Raghav Chadha took to Twitter to announce Aam Aadmi Party’s support to the Samyukt Kisan Morcha’s call to observe a countrywide protest on May 26, marking the completion of 6 months of their agitation.
“Aam Aadmi Party extends support to call given by Samyukt Kisan Morcha to observe a countrywide protest on 26 May marking the completion of 6 months of their Andolan. We urge the centre to immediately resume talks with farmers and accede to their demands. AAP stands firmly with the farmers,” Chadha tweeted.
Now, this is in stark contrast to the ongoing restrictions imposed by AAP in Delhi. On one hand, AAP wants people in Delhi to forgo their means of livelihood and remain indoor to keep the virus at the bay. At the same time, it extends its support to the farmers protests, which analysts and epidemiologists have claimed to be one of the reasons behind the surge in the coronavirus caseloads caused by the UK strain.
“Punjab played a key role in the rise of cases related to the B.1.1.7 variant. There were at least four major clusters (super spreader events), marriages, farmer protests from February 1 to February 28, that are responsible for large spikes. By March, Delhi was warned about a possible 15,000 critical cases,” said Dr Sujeet Singh, who is a director at the National Centre for Disease Control(NCDC).
However, such concerns did not deter AAP from indulging in politics by allowing the farmers to organise a protest against the three farm laws. It seems that the AAP government want Delhi residents to observe lockdown restrictions so that ‘farmers’ can flout COVID strictures and run amok on the streets demonstrating against the central government.
This arbitrary application of lockdown, where residents of Delhi are prohibited from venturing out and continuing with their economic activities, while farmers are allowed and encouraged to congregate in huge numbers to stage mindless demonstrations against the central government, exposes the AAP government’s duplicity in dealing with the threat posed by COVID-19.
It does not want to lift the lockdown restrictions because of the raging pandemic, but actively encourages farmers to hit the streets against the central government. This hypocrisy brings us to the contentious issue of whether lockdowns are truly effective in bringing under control the coronavirus outbreak and the if the costs associated with the lockdowns are worth the gamble.
The futility of imposing crippling lockdowns to combat the COVID-19 outbreak
As India began grappling with the second wave of the coronavirus outbreak, the clamour for a nationwide lockdown was increasing even as there was very little evidence to suggest that lockdowns are especially effective in eliminating the spread of the virus. Analysts and experts are still unsure if lockdowns are a potent tool in the fight against the pandemic, or they simply add to the economic woes of the vulnerable section of the population.
The trends from the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic make it amply clear that the imposition of lockdown resulted in significantly lowering the spread of the pandemic. The first lockdown was imposed in India on the 24th of March, 2020 and lasted three weeks. Three weeks later, it was extended till the 3rd of May. Thereafter, the unlock was on in phases and from June, all spaces apart from containment zones and few other places, restrictions had largely been lifted.
The data from that specific period is noteworthy. From March till June, cases were on the rise all the time despite the fact that the lockdown was in place and numerous restrictions were in order. From June till September, despite the fact that restrictions had largely been lifted, the cases do not show a disproportionate increase or a sudden spike.
While the first wave of the lockdown was necessary, given that it provided time to the country to prepare for the pandemic and augment its capabilities to combat its spread, another wave of lockdown is only going to add pressure on the Indian economy, which is already reeling from the adverse effects of the first lockdown.
People in many parts of the country have expressed their displeasure at the implementation of a lockdown because it is not uniform in its impact. Small businesses have suffered immensely due to the lockdown and are yet to recover fully.
While entire sectors such as tourism and hospitality have been torched, delivery services such as Amazon and Swiggy and Zomato and other avenues where employees can work from home have continued to prosper. Such disparities perhaps explain why lockdowns have support from certain sectors and complete opposition from others because they do not impact everyone equally.
Additionally, Epidemiologists have hinted that COVID-19 is here to stay, warning the country to brace for subsequent waves of the pandemic. A developing country like India, with a population of over 1.4 billion, does not have the luxury enjoyed by affluent western nations with a significantly lower population to impose months of strict lockdown and emerge from it almost unscathed.
India has a sizeable population of people who barely survive hand to mouth. For these people, poverty and starvation are imminent threats, not the pandemic. Imposing lockdown directly affects their livelihood and deprives them of living a dignified life. India cannot afford another wave of national lockdown that would push the vulnerable sections of the society that are already grappling with the after-effects of the first lockdown to the brink.
Instead, the state governments in India need to expand their testing and tracing and turn their focus on vaccinating as many people as possible to stop the spread of the pandemic. Persistence with costlier alternatives such as the enforcement of a sweeping lockdown should be shunned, and models followed by states such as Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and others, who have demonstrated that the virus can be brought under control without having to take the harsh step of imposing a rigorous lockdown, should be emulated.
Delhi government needs to take a cue from these states and institute necessary policy changes to fight the coronavirus outbreak, rather than blindly going ahead with the easy option of imposing a strict lockdown and continuing to subject its citizens to misery.