Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked citizens for a “few weeks” in his address to the nation on Thursday. He hinted quite clearly that the people’s curfew on March 22 would serve as a test for the future. Restrictions on mobility have kicked in over the past week. And that is why, perhaps, it did not come as an outright surprise when the Centre and various states decided to go in for a more strict lockdown — across states, urban centres, affected districts — in the last 48 hours.
Citizens must follow the directives, and exercise a high degree of responsibility. On Sunday, after the 5 pm applause for those who are on the frontline of battling the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) and those still keeping essential services going, in many pockets, there were large congregations. On Monday, in key cities, there was a resumption of movement on a scale that was potentially dangerous. There is no doubt that the lockdown is inconvenient. But citizens must realise that they are not merely staying home for themselves — they are doing it for their families and for the larger community, given the high rates of transmission. In fact, they must begin preparing for a longer period of lockdown that extends beyond March 31. The impact of the lockdown will not be discernible immediately. Instead, expect a spike in cases for now — because of the time lag between getting infected, showing symptoms, and getting tested. But if the lockdown is successful and social distancing is practised, in a few weeks, India may see, first, a slower rate at which cases are increasing, and then the flattening of the curve.
For this to succeed, the government needs to, simultaneously, implement the following measures. One, get ready to extend the lockdown beyond March 31 if there’s reason to do so. And then review the situation. Two, based on the recognition that this lockdown is extracting a huge economic toll, especially for the poor, come up with an economic plan — which entails cash transfers. Three, use this period to build up hospital capacity, source key items which will be needed for severe cases, and transport it to key centres. And four, ramp up the capacity of district hospitals — because with many migrant workers having returned home, it is likely that the infection will now spread to rural India. The lockdown is the first step in a long battle.