Towards a new normal: On Unlock 3

The Centre has announced further relaxations in the lockdown that began on March 25 to combat the COVID-19 pandemic although the numbers are unrelenting. The third phase will now take effect from August 5. At nearly 17 lakh, India stood third among countries with the highest number of cases; a third of these cases are currently active. With over 36,000 deaths, India’s case fatality rate of 2.16% is relatively low. The possibility of wider prevalence indicated in serology surveys in Delhi and Mumbai suggests that the death rate could be even lower than current estimations. The disease spread has been uneven within the country. The responses of States and cities have also remained inconsistent. Along with the number of cases, overworked health-care professionals experiencing fatigue and the public showing impatience with restrictions are also on the rise. This is not a pleasant mix of circumstances, and utmost vigil must continue. By now, it is also evident that complete lockdowns that disrupt economic activities cannot be sustained over long periods of time. Gyms and yoga centres, but not educational institutions, metro rail, and large gatherings, will be allowed in the next phase. Movement of people and goods across borders will be easier as per the Centre’s guidelines. Random restrictions on movement such as those in Tamil Nadu, where an e-pass is required for intra- and inter-State travel, must now be done away with.

As a vaccine or a cure is not yet visible, it is time the focus on adaptation got sharper. Though many questions about COVID-19 remain, certain measures are evidently helpful in managing the pandemic better and bringing fatalities down. The coming phase of unlocking must prepare the country for complete opening. For that, first of all, testing should be unlocked and made available on demand as close to home as possible. For those infected to not step out of home is a far superior measure in preventing spread, compared to inadequate mask usage. With most cases turning out to be asymptomatic, wider and cheaper availability of testing must be a thrust area for the government now. Easy, early diagnosis of infections, even when asymptomatic, will go a long way in containment. The concerns regarding increased dependence on rapid antigen tests in some places must be addressed. Second, real time epidemiological data should be unlocked. Just as weather data is freely available, and allows for cropping practice readjustments, disaggregated real time data enables micro-planning and localised behavioural response. The proclivity shown by some States and cities to conceal data has been self-defeating. Even official death counts do not match with the numbers available with other sources. There must be efforts to harvest accurate data, and with ease of availability. Normalcy, albeit a new one, could be reached faster with the right efforts.

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Printable version | Dec 8, 2021 7:48:36 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/towards-a-new-normal-the-hindu-editorial-on-unlock-3/article32243533.ece

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