Confusing signals on lockdown

Lockdown 4.0 is about to run its course. From June 1, will we en­ter lockdown 5.0, after 68 days of hearing and seeing “don’t”, "closed" and "not allowed" for all the fa­miliar places and things? As it looks un­likely that India will find another freedom at the stroke of midnight this month-end, will there be a cold circular before D-day to tell us our status? Or will the Prime Minister give us a balcony event once again to test our spirits at the close of 4.0?

Ahead of lockdown 5.0, if it does come, here are some wishes for both the Centre and states to consider. Grant that stretch of green and piece of sky to those who deserve it the most. Stop looking at their year of birth to keep them out of parks and outdoors even if it’s to shield people above a certain age from the virus. Look around for easy tips to open up, like the golden hour scheme started by Gibraltar in April. This is a scheme just for the over 70s to go to prominent parks in this British Overseas Territory for two hours in the morning. These areas are decontaminated regularly to allow elderly members to go for that prized walk and exercise — possibly the high point of the day for most of them. The younger will manage it anyhow, but the authorities at various levels must ensure that seniors are not discriminated against in these extraordinary times.
  
Also, review the market timings. Let them stay open till late evening, especially considering the heat wave of the north. Why shut everything down before sunset? Reserve the night curfew for war time, not for war against the virus. And, keep the odd and even experiment for cars to beat pollution. Replicating a similar drive for shops — block A open on Monday and block B Tuesday, for instance — is a non-starter for both stores as well as buyers. Open markets fully, so that shoppers can spread out more in times of social distancing while they get to buy what they want and not what is thrust on them.

Cabs too must be allowed to cross state borders to take people to their workplaces and for other essentials. Ubers and Olas are needed much more as public transport is negligible in most cities across the states. Opening offices and factories will have little meaning without letting transport ply freely. How else will people reach their offices?

Whatever the decision from June 1, the countdown is missing this time unlike at the end of lockdown 1.0, 2.0 and even 3.0. Earlier on, during the lockdown, which first came into effect on March 25, there was tremendous curiosity about the next phase of curbs and plenty of hope about things getting unlocked. By now we’ve seen there’s very little that’s nationwide in this lockdown and that the customary announcement at the end of lockdown 4.0 might not be of much significance for most of us. That’s because every state and every local district will browse through the rulebook and change it drastically anyway.

We had mistakenly assumed earlier that there would be uniform norms and guidelines during the current crisis, and had eagerly responded to the PM’s tasks of flashing the mobile phone, lighting candles and even banging metal plates (thalis). Soon, we realised it was a match between states fighting for the best grades. Then the competition filtered down to districts, again to score better on the corona scale. 

 
Why else would state after state close the borders for people and goods movement even after the Central rules reiterated free flow? And why would the rules in one district be so different from the rest?

 
Competing to be low on corona cases, states have resorted to shutting their boundaries as the easiest way to stay clean of the virus, irrespective of the guidelines of the Ministry of Home Affairs on the lockdown.

Even nationally, partial openings are being done outside the lockdown an­n­ouncements. Domestic aviation was ope­ned up in the middle of lockdown 4.0, and even Railways started operations — beyond the Shramik trains — suddenly with an emphasis on “livelihood”. So, even at the Centre, the lockdown vision seems confused, rather than having any clear line of instruction based on inputs from what should be the real war-room — the Health Ministry and medical ex­perts monitoring the Covid-19 situation 24X7.
  
What then is the sanctity of the Union government’s announcement on lockdown or easing of rules as we move along?


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