Coronavirus | In February, ICMR scientists doubted efficacy of lockdown

Study said lockdown could lead to “long-lasting adverse health outcomes.”

April 09, 2020 05:07 pm | Updated April 10, 2020 12:00 am IST - NEW DELHI

A view of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) in New Delhi. File

A view of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) in New Delhi. File

Multiple scientists of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) , currently coordinating the fight against COVID-19 , co-authored a research study in February that questioned the effectiveness of a lockdown.

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The study, The 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic: A review of the current evidence, appears online in the Indian Journal for Medical Research, which is affiliated to the ICMR. It described lockdown as a “drastic public health measure” that could lead to “long-lasting adverse health outcomes.”

The review paper recommended against “coercive top-down quarantine approaches, which are driven by the authorities” and pitches for for “community and civil-society led self-quarantine and self-monitoring that could emerge as more sustainable and implementable strategies in a protracted pandemic like COVID.”

The piece, however, was written before February 29, when India was yet to announce the suspension of new visas, compulsory screening of all international passengers and the eventual lockdown from March 25 . Though India had recorded its first cases on January 30, a steady, discernible escalation of confirmed new cases had begun only from March 3.

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The study has as its lead author Pranab Chatterjee of the Translational Global Health Policy Research Cell, which is an interdisciplinary unit set up with the ICMR and the World Health Organisation (WHO). Other authors are Nivedita Gupta and Raman Gangakhedkar—the latter being the ICMR spokesperson at the Health Ministry's daily briefings—of the Epidemiology Division at the ICMR; Bhabatosh Das of the Translational Health Science and Technology Institute, Faridabad; Nazia Nagi of the Department of Microbiology at the Maulana Azad Medical College and Sayantan Banerjee of the WHO.

Travel bans

The review paper also didn’t appear to be a votary of travel bans. “The medium and long-term impact of such travel bans remain to be seen but modelling studies suggest that in the short-term, these are unlikely to have meaningful impact on global transmission of SARS-CoV-2, unless sustained 90 per cent travel restrictions are implemented in combination with more than 50 per cent reduction in local transmission. Such bans may only provide a symbolic shield unless the ongoing outbreak is staunched. Ethical concerns of imposing such travel bans have also been questioned,” it said.

Also read: Coronavirus | Isolation is India’s best weapon: ICMR

For their view on bans, the paper cited evidence from a study in the Lancet and another paper, which was still being reviewed, at the time this paper was written. Their assertions also appeared to rest heavily on the experience of measures in Wuhan, China.

Scientists say that the effectiveness of the lockdown in curtailing the spread of the disease would be apparent only two-three weeks after, given the average period of incubation of the virus. Ever since the lockdown was announced, cases rose10-fold to around 5,700 on Wednesday.

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