Opinion: Lockdown or a Crackdown on civil life?

By imposing a lockdown for 20 hours a day, isn't it a policy designed to encourage super spreader events in the remaining 4 hours?

By Rajeev Agur  Published on  24 May 2021 6:39 AM GMT
Opinion: Lockdown or a Crackdown on civil life?

Ludo, Dalgona Coffee, Pajamas, Baking, Online Meetings, Balcony Gardens, OTT. That's the synopsis of how the last 15 months went by. When it seemed like things were returning to normal (well, I don't remember what normal looks like anymore. Do you?) Corona pulled a surprise on us all in the form of a second wave, along with a cousin - a new variant. Well, if it's a surprise or not, is a topic for another debate. Let's save it for another day. While most of us spent the lockdown in 2020 as a vacation, none of us is happy about it in 2021. What changed?

None of us had any clue of what was happening last year. Sanitiser, mask became a part of life. For a nation that was starved of a holiday, lockdown came as a blessing, of course to those who could work from home. An office desk or the living room sofa made little difference to their work or purse. Another end of the spectrum though suffered the most. Walked hundreds of miles, starved for days before some kind soul offered food, laid down lives on rail tracks until an angel stepped up to help the whole nation…

As sudden as the lockdown was announced last year, it came upon our lives in the almost same manner here in Telangana. The only difference: There is a 4-hour window to take care of your business which wasn't there last year. Only similarity: Police roughing up violators. I understand the police are under a lot of stress to enforce lockdown, are constantly exposed, and have had to sacrifice a few of their members. They are following orders. However, there is a lot of ambiguity in those orders and it looks like they come up with new rules on the go. Here are a few questions that I have regarding lockdown:

What is the purpose of the lockdown? To bring the state to a standstill or to reduce the incidence of Covid-19? If it is the latter

How is forcing everyone to finish their tasks within 4 hours going to help? To reduce Covid-19, isn't social distancing an effective method? By imposing a lockdown for 20 hours a day, isn't it a policy designed to encourage super spreader events in the remaining 4 hours?

Flyovers are closed, barricades are erected across the city even during the non-lockdown hours, creating bottlenecks and crowding on roads. By creating hurdles and making it hard for people to move, isn't it the establishment that's making sure people don't go back on time? Is it a ploy to fine more people and increase revenues?

Any lockdown violators are slapped with challans, cases against them, and their vehicles are seized. How are these people expected to go back home when all forms of? If they are stranded or walking back home, will you slap them with another case? Or are you expecting someone else to come and pick them up? Isn't it defeating the purpose?

Before cracking down on food delivery and e-commerce all of a sudden, was a directive issued? What is the notice period given to comply with the directives?

A lot of patients who are home isolated, people who are stranded because of lockdown, people who can't cook, are all dependent on food delivery services. Is it a punishment for law-abiding citizens? You go out, get challan and a case. Stay home, go hungry. Is this a pandemic-induced suffering or an act of state revenge (for what?)?

Blood donors, receivers, patients, oxygen cylinders, and other essential services like electricity employees were stopped. Who is going to shoulder the responsibility if someone dies or suffers long-lasting damage?

Violators are all locked up in a reputed school campus. Visuals show that there is little social distancing followed there. Why are super spreader gatherings created intentionally?

I completely agree with the fact that all forms of non-essential travel and congregations need to be curtailed. A ban on weddings, funerals, gyms, rallies, protests, swimming pools, pubs, chai-tapris, etc. is justified. These can wait. But people need supplies. They need groceries. They have no option but to go out. Some who are privileged to order in, are still going to suffer (remember e-commerce delivery boys are stamped down?). Going out to buy a cell phone or a tab might seem like an unnecessary trip in general, but for a student attending online classes, it is a make-or-break situation. Only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches.

I am not suggesting things like vaccinating everyone in the next fortnight, or such things that aren't even in the state government's hands, but a policy tweak to fine-tune human behaviors. We are all on the same page. Reduce the incidence of Covid-19. Don't you think gatherings in a small window are nothing sort of super spreader events? On the contrary, how about opening grocery, vegetable markets 24X7 and encouraging people to shop off-peak hours? I know a lot of people who will shop overnight to avoid crowds.

The establishment that is taking the lockdown so seriously, has done so little on creating awareness about the pandemic, symptoms, treatment options, and so on. Over the few months, I have seen hundreds of ads by celebrities on national television, asking people to wear masks, what the symptoms are, get tested, seek out medical help, and not panic. There was very little effort on that front in regional media. Why isn't the government using all the resources to tell people what they ought to and ought not to do? When there can be full-page ads about inaugurations, schemes, and so on, why not about Covid-19?

Incentivize people to stay in. Don't punish them for stepping out.

Author: Rajeev Agur is an independent policy researcher and an alumnus of the School of Public Policy and Governance, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Hyderabad. Apart from his full time job revolutionizing urban commute, he can be found reading, clicking pictures and discussing politics. Rajeev also loves teaching and conducts data analysis workshops at his alma mater. He can be reached on twitter @rajeevagur

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