Well. Here we are. In lockdown. Practicing social distancing.
But at some point we all need to move out. Not just for economic activity but for physical and mental well being. For healthcare. For recreation.
As a race we have grown inwardly and physically distant to each other connected mainly by the internet to people who think like us and ignorant of the neighbours or those who walk besides us on the road. Living in ever more packed conditions, this anomaly of connected-disconnection has its own unique problems and needs unique solutions.
The biggest problem today in most lived areas is congestion. Whether it be a small town or a booming city, almost all have sprung up unplanned and hence when a natural disaster strikes such as the Covid-19 pandemic, we really do not have adequate answers to it.
If social distancing was simple, we would have been able to halt this virus immediately. If cleanliness was adequate, we might have been able to reduce the burden of disease. If supply chains were well prepared we would have been able to fight better.
Now as India is fighting this battle with Covid-19 with an authoritative lockdown, fortunately the magnitude of the problem is well contained so far. Of course we are underreporting, who isn’t. A recent study showed 40,000 more deaths in Feb-March this year, world over, compared to historical data suggesting many unaccounted Covid-19 related deaths. India has done remarkably well in locking down the country to prevent rapid spread.
Are we now ready to unlock it???
Do we now have measures in place for social distancing, cleanliness, supply chains etc. to be able to unlock the lockdown?
Social distancing has worked by forcing people to stay indoors. But to be able to unlock the lockdown, it must continue. I have seen on the streets of Mumbai that this is not easy. People have very little understanding of why this is necessary and its consequences. Where people climb on top of trains (thankfully not anymore, forced by police of course) to make a simple journey to work, it is difficult to explain a disease which may or may not kill you in the next 2-4 weeks and how you may spread it to others too. Standing in long queues, almost taking support of the person next to you is standard practice in the heat of summer in almost all the towns of the country. How and who will educate the people to continue social distancing for the next few months? Before we can make and afford a vaccine? In fact such social distancing can work very well in the long run in preventing many communicable diseases. The police has somehow managed to work over-time to keep people off streets. That was easier than keeping people socially distant on the streets. So we need social volunteers, preferably young and at low risk for death or morbidity from the virus, who can be employed by the government to enable social distancing in the long run. I remember seeing scouts, RSPs and other cadets in my childhood…we need lakhs of these more. And let them keep doing the social good of maintaining discipline in common life for the long run. Some may even join the police eventually, what a well trained staff to have! Buses, trains, cinemas, restaurants, we need such staff everywhere. Also the elderly, the ill, the children need to visit parks and recreation areas in a graded manner and this must be given priority by building green corridors for them once or twice a week. A lot more thought needs to go into this from the civic bodies on a daily basis but we have to start somewhere.
Once we are able to comprehend the level of social distancing that needs to be kept and the number of volunteers needed, we can work on cleanliness. Never have I seen so many healthcare workers including those who sweep the streets and collect garbage (we really must start calling them healthcare workers too), work with such vigour. The government really needs to be commended for this. However as people become more active, the need for healthcare workers will increase manifolds. We must strive to maintain this level of cleanliness for good.
Spending on healthcare workers will benefit everyone. Let us spend on this. Now!
Governments, municipal corporations, zilla parishads etc. will have to be penalised if they do not do this. They may be locked-down from the rest of the country till they sort out the problem of cleanliness. Look what we did with China and all those countries who were spreading the virus. We locked ourselves down from them. We said we don’t want anyone from there even if they are our own! Until they control the problem. The same needs to be done between districts and states. Give priority to cleanliness & health first.
Despite such measures there will always be hotspots. For Covid-19, TB, Malaria, Typhoid etc. but once such good measures are in place, it will be easier to tackle such hotspots. Provide adequate and focussed protection for all those who are at increased risk on those areas. Healthcare workers (doctors, nurses, technicians, cleaners, sweepers, garbage collectors etc.), those working in schools, restaurants etc., elderly, children etc. All those who are basically exposed to a crowd or multiple people over a day. Give them adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), nutrition, vaccination, prophylaxis etc. The cost of this will be lesser and lesser with each passing month and each disease in future if the above two measures are well in place.
India can really disown all its communicable diseases such as above within a short time span taking this opportunity. How much will that benefit the economy if you don’t lose young working population to malaria etc.!
Finally we need to worry about the economy. Especially people whose bread needs to be earned on a day-to-day basis. Let such people work first. Maybe a few times a week. Keeping stringent social distancing measures and cleanliness. Quarantine anyone who doesn’t follow the rules. Let the others work. Many managers, IT personnel, teachers, technical support staff can work from home using video conferencing. Allow offices and factories to work a few days a week to begin with. Allow flexibility of hours wherever possible. Once these things are incorporated into routine life, we will realise that some of these things can be done on a long term basis to make our lives more comfortable and healthy and reduce work relates stress.
Meanwhile, the whole economy slowly has to focus on healthcare first and then profit making. There is profit in healthcare too. Maybe less in magnitude. But it is an industry which doesn’t stop. So people need to invest in their health by staying well nourished and exercise. And companies can make a lot of money if they organise this sector well. Develop supply chains, build hospitals which are less congested, invest in some research so we can ‘make-in-India’ and reduce costs and dependence for simple things like masks, syringes, intravenous fluids, PPEs etc.
We have all seen that push comes to shove, we value our lives the most. One way or another we are all connected and hence even other people’s health influences us. If we give priority to general health, well being, cleanliness, social distancing, disaster management, we can all live healthy for many years.