Sunday 29 March 2020

Ten Points for the Indian Government to Consider While Implementing Lockdowns for Corona Virus Outbreak (COVID19)

The Indian response to the Corona Virus Outbreak has drawn many reactions and has resulted in a number of sub-optimalities. The idea of this blog is not to criticise what has already happened, in this unparalleled time of crisis. This is merely an expression of what hopefully is being considered and worked into the plans going forward. We have already seen issues of breakdown in compliance, support for people and communities especially those most economically vulnerable and shortages of necessary supplies for those at the forefront of the response. Not everything is wrong or right, but we must only look to raise the bar and support the response in our crucial fight against COVID19. What has already happened must only be analysed to improve future efforts and not to ascribe blame or indulge in issues that detract and distract from the most vital matters at hand. 

4 days into the lockdown, the Interstate Bus Terminus in Delhi,
overwhelmed by crowds (mostly poor migrant labour) ignoring social distancing norms,
seeking transportation to get home. 

There are various dimensions in which the challenge has to be tackled, while the financial and economic side is one, the medical services and cure research aspect is another. There are the safety and security aspects and then there are the social and psychological impacts that we need to deal with. There is what we do as the challenge grows and then what we do to normalise once it begins to subside. The goal of this particular blog is to highlight a few points which seem urgent given the heart-rending issues surfacing due to the lockdown that common people are facing. 

So here are ten points we hope the government is going to pay heed to in light of the lockdown.
Law enforcement punishing those ignoring
the call for lockdown and venturing out. 
1)        In light of the travails of poor migrants and other stranded people, brief all those implementing the lockdown that they are dealing with humans who are fearful, anxious, worried and possibly desperate. To add to that, most are protecting themselves and their family, probably on an empty stomach and little hope that someone is looking out for them. These people have been on their own forever. It is foolhardy for anyone to expect them to start believing that the world has suddenly begun to prioritise and work in their best interests now.
People walking carrying their belongings across states hoping to get home,
some prepared to walk for hundreds of miles to get home. 

All that many of them are trying to do is merely survive. They are just trying to get back home to their loved ones or find food and shelter. Their movements, as a result, may cause worries to some others. Still, the least they deserve is compassion and understanding if you are unable to offer them anything more. This must be considered while the law enforcement agencies and planners carry out their work. Read a news18 report on migrant workers plight here.

 2)        Organise food and essentials in a planned manner. It is vital to ensure that all areas are covered, and that requires a massive logistical and communication exercise. This requires local police and perhaps even community support. This is an extensive and urgent campaign that need to be put in place. It is also essential that people know where the reliable and safe places are, to get food from. Often, well-meaning people do take the initiative that fizzles out in time or may overlook essential safety aspects. This is in no way undermining their effort and God bless them. Still, the administration must do over and above, something that is systemic and sustainable. Enrolling people who are volunteering into the arrangements may be a win-win and may be planned but addressing various critical aspects of it such as safety and continuity. Quality assurance plan must support safety at food preparation and distribution points. 

Report of a husband carrying his wife
who was immobilised due to a medical condition
3)        Transport is essential and must be planned. No matter what there will be emergencies of various kinds and people will need to travel. There must be a mechanism for people, especially poor people, to make essential commutes. A safety check must be made for the mode of travel. Read tragic news of a migrant worker here.

4)        Many issues around supply are coming to the fore. Not only is there an issue of availability, but there is also the issue of overcharging for essential commodities. A nationwide helpline must be made available for people to report overcharging issues. Exploiting vulnerabilities for profit at this stage must be dealt with zero tolerance. 

5)        There must be a way to get people tested in an organised fashion and this must be communicated to them in each locality. A campaign must start for the same. At this time, a line of communication must be made active to all community representatives, including those with RWAs (Resident Welfare Associations) or in poorer (unorganised) communities where such groups may not exist. Emergency communication systems and their nodes (hierarchy) must be identified not just to disseminate information but gather local intelligence. MLAs, Councillors and local Police Stations are not good enough to be the last mile communicators.

6)        Clear distribution channels and points must be identified. These must communicated to locals for provision of essential protective gear such as masks, gloves, etc. 

7)        Delivery mechanisms must be allowed to function. Food delivery is still on, but other e-tailers that are also are members who can provide delivery support are shut down. In fact, in such a situation, delivery networks must be strengthened and reinforced. Communication must go out in each community to make people aware of such mechanisms of delivery, and they must be encouraged to use these and not venture out on their own.

8)        Each locality must know their nearest healthcare facility that is equipped to handle the medical requirements and where people from each neighbourhood should go. This will keep people from overwhelming select facilities and distribute the load, helping not just hospitals and testing facilities, but also the people by ensuring they don’t find themselves in avoidable long queues and unnecessarily travelling long distances.

9)        A production plan for essential equipment and gear that may be in short supply I would believe is already in play. We must have scalable and responsive production plans, along with storage and distribution. Any potential bottleneck must be identified and undone. Lockdowns must factor in need for production and distribution of these items.

10)        One must ensure that law and order, military forces should not be put under undue risk. They must be used only where their specialised capabilities are critical.  The option to mobilise trained personnel from other avenues, medical support volunteers including doctors and other medical staff under training, private security personnel, and many other sources must be exercised to meet human resources requirements. Such sources must be identified and kept on call for emergencies at all times. Risking a spread among armed forces can multiply other risks resulting in undue distractions and open battles on other critical fronts.

We really don't know what times like these can eventually result into. Our only hope is that we learn, and live up to the expectations one can have of a considerate, competent and a wise society. The next few blogs of mine will focus on various aspects of this crisis and what we can learn from it. I will express thoughts on what we  may need to do hereafter to evolve and progress.