Lockdown inertia: Fear psychosis about Covid pervades. Unlocking is taking too long

The laborious process of unlocking after 70 days of nationwide lockdowns is entering its third iteration. The biggest takeaway is that night curfews, which did little good anyway, have finally been withdrawn. But Unlock 3 guidelines make no effort to address the many state-, district- and city-level lockdowns that remain in force across India. Centre’s guidelines forbid restrictions on inter-state movement of people and goods outside containment zones. Yet weighty quarantine rules and social stigma continue to hinder inter-state travel. Since May, Centre hasn’t advised any state government to use the lockdown option. Yet the costly habit still found too many takers.

Serological surveys from Delhi and Mumbai make it amply clear: Lockdowns only delay inevitable surges in infection, keeping the economy in limbo longer than otherwise. The high prevalence of antibodies with asymptomatic spread makes a strong case for faster unlocking with safeguards like wearing masks. But most states are fumbling in the dark without doing sero surveys, accurately registering deaths or scaling up testing. If the forthcoming round of sero surveys in Delhi and Mumbai offer more robust data and hyperlocal trends, Centre must take a quicker decision on restarting Metro services. Without these local services, India’s twin economic engines cannot regain their mojo.

If more epidemiological data is available, it could actually spur states towards meaningful unlocking instead of knee-jerk lockdowns they now resort to. Awareness of hitherto unknown dynamics of Covid spread would also rid the public of fear psychosis and inspire greater confidence to resume economic activities. Right now, the official and unstated lockdowns are battering lives, wreaking incalculable economic, physiological and mental damage. Governments must train unlocking energies on healthcare capacity expansion – early testing, adding hospital beds and reaching needy patients. For citizens, unlock demands wearing a mask as we rebuild from scratch.

This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.

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