Winter worries: On Home Ministry guidelines to check spread of COVID-19

New Home Ministry guidelines to check further spread of COVID-19 during the winter months starting with December reflect the government’s concern that the gradually reviving economic activity should remain unaffected by ongoing containment measures. The Centre has mandated that States declare containment zones online, identifying them with micro targeting to minimise the impact. It has also prohibited any lockdowns at State and city levels without prior consultation with the Ministry. Such advice might appear redundant, coming as it does after a long unlock phase that permitted the relaxation of restrictions on almost all public activities, barring regular flights and trains, and the onus having shifted to the citizen to avoid getting infected. Several States with a perceived decline in new infections have opened up even more; in Tamil Nadu, for instance, final year in-person college classes and medical courses except for fresh entrants are set to reopen on December 7. This is a time to reiterate proven safety norms, considering that India has about 4.48 lakh active cases out of a total of 94.31 lakh cases recorded thus far, and where almost three-fourths of new infections are concentrated in eight States and Union Territories including Delhi. Encouraging results from vaccine trials and the likelihood of early emergency use authorisation have weakened voluntary caution, and citizens are yielding to pandemic fatigue. Health authorities must reinforce the message that low-cost interventions such as masks, good ventilation and distancing norms cannot be abandoned.

Evidence from the lockdown in India shows that the reproductive number for COVID-19, representing the number of fresh infections caused by an individual, was indeed reduced by the severe curbs, although the outcome varied by location. At the end of April, as the lockdown rigour eased, India had over 30,000 cases and 1,153 deaths in all. But seven months later, there were 39,806 infections and 433 deaths in a single day, November 29, underscoring the continuing challenge. The prime task before health administrators is to convince the average citizen that there is much to be gained through inexpensive lifestyle modification. A study of 131 countries published in The Lancet estimated the benefits of restricting group gatherings to 10 people, and how reducing physical attendance at workplaces could bring down the reproductive number by 38% in one month. Universal masking, with 95% compliance, is projected to reduce deaths dramatically, in another University of Washington study. Evidently, the entire economy stands to benefit from such painless interventions, while sparing doctors and frontline health workers of deadly risk. The Central government has rightly prioritised targeted containment, but it should standardise testing protocols across States, and not dilute the message of safe behaviour by labouring over the point of recoveries and low per-million fatalities.

Related Topics
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Jan 16, 2021 5:58:21 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/winter-worries-on-home-ministry-guidelines-to-check-spread-of-covid-19/article33216044.ece

Next Story