As expected, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday announced a major 21-day lockdown, following up on the Janata curfew two days earlier.
The government’s decision to go for broke with the three-week shutdown, while definitely a firm move, is unprecedented and in many ways takes the country on an uncharted path.
But the experience of the last three days, starting Sunday, does not evoke optimism as people seemed more interested in turning the experimental lockdown on March 22 into a show of support by breaking all rules necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic.
For instance, crowds got together to ring bells, blow conches and make a noise in a show of support for the medical fraternity completely forgetting the basic dictum of ‘social distancing’ that had been stressed by Modi.
On Tuesday, the first day of the total shutdown in Karnataka, people continued to wander around the streets and were literally beaten black and blue by the police who had been ordered to ensure the success of the curfew. After all the hard work, Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa announced that those who wanted to go home for the Ugadi festival (that falls on Wednesday) could do so before midnight. This caused massive traffic jams on all roads leading out of the city. In one move, the effort of the entire day went waste.
These are but instances that make one wonder how successful the three-week lockdown will be. As the prime minister himself conceded, the poor are going to be hit hard. Also, the issue is that in the absence of clear instructions to the police and local officials, the shutdowns generally tend to be implemented as per the understanding of the person in charge, be it in a small locality, or a town or a city.
The prime minister, this time around, made it a point to announce succour for the healthcare sector by ‘earmarking’ Rs.15,000 crore for all equipment related to controlling and preventing the spread of the C-virus. While that is definitely a positive move, in practical terms would that help in fresh acquisitions of ventilators, masks and other equipment at this time when they are needed the most.
Countries around the world are suffering from shortages of these equipment and none would be willing to export them to India. If that is the case, would it possible for India to ramp up production immediately even with all the money at its disposal.
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Modi’s announcement was short on details but that was followed by clear guidelines, at least on paper. Despite his assurance that essential supplies would be protected, panic buying reportedly commenced in many parts of the country.
The prime minister, in a sense, has taken a calculated risk by announcing the three-week lockdown. If it turns out effective that would be to his credit, but in the event it causes more unforeseen complications in terms of the actual effect it has on people of all categories, the government has a bigger problem on its hands.
The ultimate success of the lockdown would depend upon how the state governments implement the same. They will have to evaluate the law and order situation and ensure regular supply of essential commodities and perishables that are required on a daily basis, such as milk and fresh vegetables.
They would also have to decide upon relaxation on curfew timings so that people could venture out and do their shopping without crowding the market place. The guidelines for these should be followed by the respective state governments.