Till there are no new Covid-19 cases, India must stay at home
The whole of India will in times to come look back at Telangana chief minister K Chandrashekar Rao’s call to prime minister Narendra Modi — two days after the PM had had a video conference with all CMs — to extend by at least two weeks the nationwide lockdown to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
Chadrashekar Rao was bold enough to acknowledge the elephant in the room. And he was characteristically wise in advocating the simplest course of action available to India: if we must win the battle against Covid-19, we must exercise a maximum social distancing, the only first weapon available to each individual; and to ensure that, we must extend the lockdown.
Chandrashekar Rao weighed the issue well: there is a medical emergency that cannot be wished away, and an economic stagnation leading to a buildup of dead mass through inactivity of productive assets — people, factories, fields, offices, cities, states and the entire country. But we must address it later. In Chandrashekar Rao’s own words, we can grow back the economy, but cannot get back those whose lives will have been lost if we hasten to lift the lockdown even one hour before we are ready.
The Telangana chief minister's intervention found great resonance. His counterparts of Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Punjab, Kerala, and West Bengal have given indications that they would rather have an extension of the lockdown than risk a flare-up of the virus.
The BJP chief ministers of Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and the NDA CMs of Bihar and Tamil Nadu have in their own tacit ways conveyed their view. Not one political leader spoke to the contrary and advocated a lifting of the lockdown.
A national political consensus is significant in our polarised times. The threat of mass deaths due to the virus has brought leaders across parties to the realisation that we cannot let down our guard in this existential battle. Citizens too have by and large rallied around and will continue to take suffering with stoicism till the curve of the epidemic is flattened.
Yes, everyone is not equal during a lockdown. Daily-wage earners, migrant workers, homeless people and those below the poverty line have been hit the worst, and for them each day is a fight to survive. Governments have started working and must augment relief to the subaltern without let-up and with greater efficiency. Ddeath by starvation may not be contagious but no less a national shame.
The lockdown, by most projected scenarios, from the Boston Consulting Group report to calculations of epidemiologists like Ramanan Laxminarayan, should and will stretch across April, perhaps the whole of May too. But it does not matter. Till the last patient is in hospital, quarantined and cured, till there are no new Covid cases, India must stay at home, safe.
We must win the battle and the war at any cost. If the lockdown stays, we will.