Lockdown: ‘Need an unconventional exit strategy’

NOIDA: Talking about the next steps after the lockdown in India, experts at Bennett University‘s global online conference on Covid-19: Fallout & Future on Thursday agreed that social distancing needs to continue in various forms even after the lockdown to control the spread of the virus.
Narayana Hospitals chairman Dr Devi Shetty expressed concern about the economic impact of the lockdown due to coronavirus and said there is a need to gradually lift the restrictions.
Shetty proposed that after the lockdown, the hotspots can remain sealed while the other areas should be gradually opened up in order to look at reviving the economy.
“We can say that we have reduced the mortality rate by 50% in India because of the early lockdown, which did not happen in many other countries. Going forward, we need to gradually lift the lockdown and have an unconventional exit strategy. There seems no medical reason to continue with the lockdown except in the hotspots. We proposed in Karnataka that public transport should start, but at 50% of the capacity and shops should be open from early morning to late hours so that people don’t crowd together,” said Dr Shetty.
According to Dr Randeep Guleria, Director, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, the next few weeks will remain challenging, though the rise in cases may not be sharp due to the timely lockdown. However, he added that more data is needed over the next few days to decide whether the lockdown should continue or not.

Dr Guleria said that the challenge in the next few months would be to prevent spread of infection from the hotspots to other areas and efforts need to be made to contain the infection, which only possible by social distancing and regular hand washing. “What we need to do going forward is to contain the infection to the hotspots, so that the cases do not increase and our existing healthcare infrastructure can handle the disease. This is why, the Coronavirus battle can now be won, not in the hospitals, but in the community,” said Dr Guleria.
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There are four main strategies going forward, according to Dr Dinesh Arora IAS, Former Deputy Chief Executive Officer, National Health Agency (NHA), and current Sommer Scholar (MPH) at Johns Hopkins University, USA.
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“Protect the high-risk groups like population over 65 and health workers, continue lockdown only in hotspots and start opening up the economy gradually, ramp up testing by leveraging the private sector and use technology for surveillance. The lesson from the crisis is that public health is on the spotlight now and there is going to be a new normal after this,” said Dr Arora.
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Professor Ashish Kumar Jha, Director, Harvard Global Health Institute, USA, said that there are just two ways to handle the disease—social distancing and testing isolation quarantine strategy. He said that while India has done very well on the first front, testing and isolation remains a challenge.
“India needs to substantially ramp up testing and isolation to prevent the spread. It needs to also look at the economic cost and focus on short, targeted lockdown,” said professor Jha.
Read Also: Lockdown in India should be lifted carefully, says WHO’s special envoy
Healthcare professionals and experts at the conference agreed that India is at the forefront of handling the cases and that the early lockdown has been able to prevent the spread of the disease. Experts said that India has done better than most developed countries in controlling the disease and lessons can be taken from within India from areas like Kerala and Bhilwada.
Dr Rajiv Kumar, Vice Chairman of Niti Aayog said that there are several lessons from the Covid-19 crisis including the imminent need for reducing the cost of medical education in the country and the need to attract talent back to the country for healthcare research.
“We have also realised that there is a very large informal sector that needs to be provided social and medical safety net. Additionally, we hope that that have resources available in future so that we don’t have to make choices again between saving lives and saving livelihoods. There is also a need to improve governance at all levels in delivery of public health,” said Dr Kumar.

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