'Abrupt end to lockdown will trigger COVID escalation'

Ending lockdown abruptly will trigger COVID-19 escalation, says expert

Word of caution

The focus must be on preparing proper plans for containment and surveillance, says pandemic expert Dr Giridhar Babu. DH file/Pushkar V

An expert and a member of the State Covid Task Force has warned that abruptly lifting the lockdown would trigger a Covid-19 escalation.

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For Dr Giridhar Babu, epidemiologist and pandemic expert, the ongoing lockdown is like a game of cricket, but with deadly consequences. 

“In my view, it is almost the first innings in a Test match against Covid-19 in India. After having a lower total (cases) and a good score on an unpredictable pitch, the time has now come to defend. Only, the best bowling (local mitigation) and fielding (catching every case) can ensure a win,” he said.

He said the government must be guided by epidemiology and the expectations of the public when lifting the lockdown. “However, the focus has instead become about restarting economic activity without proper plans for containment and surveillance. This could trigger a larger crisis,” he cautioned.  

The problem that certain experts like Dr Babu have with lifting the lockdown is that it is being done at a time when fresh cases are continuing to be reported.

Also Read: Coronavirus: MHA issues orders to extend lockdown for 2 more weeks from May 4

“India has done a remarkable job of keeping the number of cases and casualties down, but without a calculated lockdown exit strategy, we will soon start to see new hotspots emerge in the so-called silent districts where no cases have been reported so far. After all, Vijayapura did not happen overnight, although it took us by surprise,” he said. He explained that the ideal way out of the lockdown is to enact guidelines for how people must behave post-lockdown, including how public transport is used, how many people can be in a bus or the metro. The use of masks should be universal for anyone stepping outside their homes, he said.

All non-essential work should continue to be done from home. Essential services should come with strict social distancing guidelines. Larger buffer zones must be created around densely populated neighbourhoods.

However, within hotspot areas, maximum enforcement of curfew and other restrictions are necessary, he added.

'Herd immunity will not work at this stage'

Touching upon a point of view that advocates herd immunity as a means to break the chain of infection, Dr Babu said the mortality and infectivity rate of Covid-19 doomed such proposals to failure. “For herd immunity to work, the viral agent must have relatively low virulence. To ask people to willfully expose themself to a virus that has killed thousands of people worldwide is not an advisable move,” he said. Dr Babu also pointed out that attempts to generate herd immunity through willful transmission threatened the elderly foremost.