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Coronavirus | Over 800 scientists, doctors call upon government to reveal post-lockdown plan

Railway doctors checking temperature of medical staff of 108 ambulance who drove 16 suspected people from Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminal in Mumbai./ File photo   | Photo Credit: Aadesh Choudhary

Over 800 scientists, academicians and public health professionals issued a statement on April 1, drawing attention to key aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic and urging the government to take a few important steps in this regard.

The signatories include scientists from TIFR, Mumbai, NCBS, Bengaluru, the IITs, IISERs, IISc, Bengaluru, and doctors, including members of Indian Doctors for Peace and Development.

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“The lockdown is only a temporary solution. Unless this period of time is used to prepare the healthcare system, the country may end up paying the lockdown’s social costs without even seeing any long-term epidemiological benefits,” says Suvrat Raju from ICTS, Bengaluru, who is one of the persons co-ordinating this effort.

While emphasising that that the lockdown itself is not a cure, the statement says: “… models [of disease progression] consistently suggest that, in the absence of other factors, the epidemic could bounce back once the lockdown is lifted. If this were to happen at the end of India’s lockdown, the epidemic would hit a society already under severe economic distress, with potentially devastating consequences.”

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The scientists urge the government to reveal a post-lockdown plan that will ensure that the rate of new infections is kept low in a sustainable manner when the lockdown ends. “While social distancing and better hygiene can help, these measures are insufficient by themselves. We are deeply concerned that the government of India has not released a roadmap, detailing how it plans to deal with the epidemic, once the lockdown is eased,” reads the statement. It declares that this would also enhance the confidence of people in the government’s long-term strategy.

Expressing concern that the government is not using this precious interval of time to actually identify as many cases of COVID-19 as possible, the statement draws attention to a possible bounce-back effect: “In particular, the current restricted testing-policy creates the risk that a large number of mildly symptomatic or asymptomatic cases — which constitute the majority of infections — will remain undetected even at the end of the lockdown period. These cases could easily serve as the nucleus for the epidemic to bounce back. So, we urge the ICMR and the Government of India to take immediate steps to expand India’s testing regimen.”

Reverse migration

The statement also addresses the problem of reverse migration. According to the signatories, “The exodus triggered by the lockdown also carries the risk that the virus will be rapidly carried to all parts of India, including those where healthcare facilities are the weakest. This can precipitate both an epidemiological and a humanitarian crisis. Rather than attempting to prevent the reverse migration, using the police, we urge the government to use its stocks of food-grains and use urgent cash transfers to ensure the food-security and welfare of workers and ensure that they are not compelled to undertake long and unsafe journeys, which have already led to a number of deaths.”

Expressing an earnest hope that the government would take on board these suggestions, the signatories pledge: “As members of scientific community, we offer our complete support to the people and possible expertise in combating this disease and in ensuring that our country emerges from this difficult period with as little loss of life as possible.”

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Printable version | May 12, 2021 2:50:17 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/over-800-scientists-doctors-call-upon-government-to-reveal-post-lockdown-plan/article31235525.ece

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