One Year of Historic Lockdowns!

Pravin Andhale

Posted on : 24 Mar 2021

March 24 marks the anniversary of announcement of complete lockdown in India. With this announcement 1.3 billion people (one sixth of humanity!) were confined to their homes, literally like a jail! So, it's imperative for us to analyse and review what we achieved and lessons we have learnt! 
To Start with, on January 23rd 2020, China showed world what lockdown means!  The measure taken to control the spread of, then considered, very deadly new virus, was something 21st century world would have never imagined on it's own. 

      All around the world, going to the offices, meeting friends over a beer on weekends, going out to worship, were prohibited. Every mall, cinema hall, school, college and educational institution, were shut, except for the essential services and activities.
The new generation, which generally has a 'modern solution' to every 'modern problem', were all brought to a standstill due to the once-in-a-century situation.

Covid -19 (Coronavirus disease 2019) , caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), was first identified in December 2019 in Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei province of China.
In the absence of an effective vaccine, social distancing measures were needed to prevent transmission of the virus. The Chinese government therefore implemented a series of large-scale interventions to control the epidemic. The strictest control measures were applied in Wuhan with a complete lockdown of the population. Starting at 10 a.m. on 23 January 2020, Wuhan city officials prohibited all transport in and out of the city of 9 million residents. Within the rest of China, the interventions included nationwide traffic restrictions in the form of increased checkpoints at road junctions to reduce the number of people travelling and self-isolation of the population at home to reduce outside activities. Hundreds of millions of Chinese residents had to reduce or stop their inter-city travel and intra-city activities due to these measures.

On 30 January 2020 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 epidemic a public health emergency of international concern. By 1 March 2020, the overall number of people confirmed with COVID-19 in China had reached 80 174 and a total of 2915 people had died of the disease.

And finally, after much debate and discussion, on March 11, 2020 WHO finally declared Covid-19 as Pandemic.

Following the outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019, the Italian government confirmed the country's first cases of the disease on 30 January 2020, when the virus was detected in two Chinese tourists visiting Italy. (Though China was facing Covid-19, and lockdown was imposed in it's own province, Hubei, it allowed people to travel to outside country from elsewhere in china! thus  catalysing it's spread) A third case was confirmed on 7 February, with the patient being an Italian man evacuated from Wuhan. The number of confirmed cases increased on 21 February, when sixteen people in Lombardy and Veneto were confirmed to be infected. Following the first two deaths of people with the virus, several towns in Lombardy were placed on lockdown due to the large number of infected patients in the region.
The first lockdown began around 21 February 2020, covering ten municipalities of the province of Lodi in Lombardy and one in the province of Padua in Veneto, and affecting around 50,000 people. In the most affected town of Codogno (pop. 16,000), police cars blocked roads into and out of the quarantined area and erected barriers. The quarantined "red zone" (zona rossa) was initially enforced by police and Carabinieri, and by 27 February it was reported that 400 policemen were enforcing it with 35 checkpoints. The lockdown was initially meant to last until 6 March. While residents were permitted to leave their homes with supplies such as food and medicine being allowed to enter, attending school or going to workplaces was not allowed, and public gatherings were prohibited. Train services also bypassed the region.

On 9 March 2020, (even before WHO failed to acknowledge it as pandemic, though it was spreading to many countries.) the government of Italy under Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte imposed a national lockdown or quarantine, restricting the movement of the population except for necessity, work, and health circumstances, in response to the growing pandemic of COVID-19 in the country. Additional lockdown restrictions mandated the temporary closure of non-essential shops and businesses. 

The lockdown measures, despite being widely approved by the public opinion, were also described as the largest suppression of constitutional rights in the history of the republic. Nevertheless, Article 16 of the Constitution states that travel restrictions may be established by law for reasons of health or security. This freedom curtail may have had lot of impact on people's psyche. 
      (India today reported lockdown trend in April 2020)

In India, March 24, is a date that has gone down in the history! Bcz, in 2020, India's first-ever complete nation-wide lockdown due to a pandemic, COVID-19 was announced on this day! The Coronavirus-induced lockdowns brought everyone's life to a standstill and nobody would have ever thought that they would be confined to their four-walls like this. for country of 1.3 Billion people it was unimaginable. 
And this happened in most dramatic way too! On March 24, 2020, at TV prime time of 8:00PM, just two days after the 'Janta Curfew', Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a complete lockdown of the entire country for the next 21 days in an effort to contain the COVID-19 spread!! (It stunned everybody! all have to stay wherever they are.. No time to move back to home or anything!)

In his TV address he said "Keeping in mind health sector experts and experiences of other countries, the nation is about to take a very important decision today. From 12 midnight today, the entire country, please listen carefully, the entire country shall go under complete lockdown."
"If we are not able to manage these 21 days, the country and your family could be set back 21 years. If we are not able to manage these 21 days, several families will get devastated forever."

At that time, India had witnessed over 500 coronavirus infections and was faring better than the American and European countries.

The next COVID-19 lockdown was announced on April 14, which PM Modi extended till May 3, however, this time, with conditional relaxations.
             The Prime Minister addressed the nation for the fourth time in four weeks and stated that the high-risk areas and COVID-19 hotspots will remain under constant vigil. But also suggested that those areas which are of low risk can open up for certain specific activities from April 20.

PM said, "Until April 20, every town, every police station, every district, every state will be evaluated on how much the lockdown is being followed. Areas that succeed in this litmus test, those which will not be in the hot-spot category, and will have less likelihood to turn into a hot-spot may be allowed to open up select necessary activities from April 20."  
"However, permissions will be withdrawn immediately if lockdown rules are broken, and if there is the threat of the spread of Coronavirus," he cautioned.
Notably, by April 20, a total of 17,265 confirmed COVID-19 cases were recorded across India, whereas, 543 had succumbed to the virus, as per the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

Later on May 1, the Government of India extended the country-wide lockdown further by two weeks until May 17. It also divided all the districts into three zones (red, green and orange) based on the spread of the virus. The green zones were the districts with either zero 
confirmed cases to date, or, no confirmed case in the last 21 days. The red zone, on the other hand, took into account the total number of active coronavirus cases, doubling rate of confirmed cases, the extent of testing and surveillance feedback from the districts. Whereas, those districts, which are neither defined as green nor red, were classified as the orange zones.

The coronavirus cases were rising in India and as many people expected, the lockdown measures in place since March 24, 2020, were further extended till May 31, 2020.  

Several activities continued to remain prohibited throughout the country. These included -- all domestic and international air travel of passengers; metro rail services; running of schools, colleges, educational and training/coaching institutions; hotels, restaurants and other hospitality services; places of large public gatherings such as cinemas, shopping malls, gymnasiums entertainment parks, etc; social, political, cultural and similar gatherings and other large congregations; and, access to religious places for the public.
On May 30, the Centre issued new guidelines called 'Unlock 1', which focused on the phased re-opening of all activities outside the COVID-19 containment zones. The guidelines, with an economic focus, came into effect from June 1 and were effective till June 30.  
The places that were allowed to re-open in Phase I (from June 8), were religious places, hotels, restaurants and other hospitality services and shopping malls. 
By May 31, India had a cumulative total of 89,995 active coronavirus cases.
On June 29, the Centre issued fresh guidelines for 'Unlock 2' to open up more activities in areas outside the COVID-19 containment zones. While several restrictions were eased, the lockdown continued in the containment zones till July 31. 

Later, on July 29, the Government of India, in 'Unlock 3', allowed the process of phased re-opening of activities. It removed the restrictions on the movement of individuals during the night (Night curfew) and also allowed Yoga institutes and gymnasiums to function from August 5.

On August 1, the country's COVID-19 active cases were at 5,65,103, whereas, there were nearly 11 lakh people who had recovered from the virus. 

In 'Unlock 4', which came into effect from September 1, when India had 7,85,996 active COVID-19 cases, alongside 28,39,882 recoveries, the restrictions were further relaxed and the life started coming to normalcy. The Centre's order allowed the Metro rail to operate from September 7 in a graded manner. 

Accordingly, the social, academic, sports, entertainment, cultural, religious, political functions and other congregations were also permitted with a ceiling of 100 persons, from September 21. The Open-air theatres were also allowed to re-open from September 21.
The schools, colleges, educational and coaching institutions continued to remain closed for students. However, in areas outside the containment zones, from September 21, states and UTs were allowed to call 50% of teaching and non-teaching staff to schools at a time for online teaching/ tele-counselling and related work. Students of classes 9 to 12 were also permitted to visit their schools, in areas outside the containment zones, on a voluntary basis, for taking guidance from their teachers. 

Subsequently, the Centre kept extending the COVID-19 guidelines, with further relaxations. 

The situation, however, has now come that the people are going through a 'Deja Vu' moment, as the second wave of lockdown has reportedly arrived in India. There are several districts in Maharashtra, the worst coronavirus-hit state in India, that have been put under lockdown to contain the spread of cases. 

India reported more than 40,000 cases on Monday, taking the country's active count to 3,45,377, which had touched its lowest mark in mid-February. 

Three states namely Maharashtra, Kerala and Punjab, account for 75.15% of total active cases in the country, where, Maharashtra alone accounts for 62.71% of the total active cases in the country.

Final comments:

     In Covid-19 case, we can say that China took the lead and showed the path of how to Control the virus and save the people's lives! THIS was, I think, most devastating precedent to set and follow. The authoritarian China's steps may have worked initially for them but this is not the case for free world. By, following into China's footsteps free world governments have themselves contradicted their own principles of freedom and individual rights. This was easy to do for them bcz, public health was at stake and lives were being lost. Historically, " western world believed they can sacrifice lives but not freedom!"  But, covid-19 changed that.  Now one year after the covid-19 pandemic, we can say that China is more assertive in it's policies at home and on world stage. Maybe bcz, we have accepted their leadership on covid-19 handling and now there is no turning back!

Also, Vaccines are here and who gets it first is the new fight to watch for! here too, China and India are fighting to get the sympathy by providing easy access to vaccines! 



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Posted on : 24 Mar 2021