I am not in favour of lockdowns. I have said it before and I wish to reiterate and make my point more vehemently. The points I make are in the context of India in March 2020, but most of them can be applied universally.

Lockdown is a knee-jerk reaction. It's a desperate measure that screams that govt is not in control or that it is not equipped to handle the situation — so it has ordered everything to stop. A curfew is a lockdown. It is imposed during riots or sectarian violence — when the situation goes beyond govt’s control. There the public may have gone out of control. In the present context, there is a coronavirus gone rogue. So, the govt tells the public to drop everything and go home? It does not take into account that next the public may go out of control!

Because a lockdown is unilateral and draconian. Govts do not consult the public or even their own departments or other stake-holders before imposing it on everyone. But it goes against the natural order. Life is not supposed to stand still for any species, let alone humans. Can you tell plants and trees to stop growing for 2 months or ants to stop looking for food or bees to stop making honey or predators to stop hunting? How can you expect humans to lay still for an extended period of time?

Because it is not only that humans have to be busy, but humans have to work regularly to earn their living. Those that do not need to work, still need to spend their energy on a daily basis — they cannot put it in a bank to be used later. Hence, it's not natural for anyone to remain idle for long. In addition, they have daily needs of nutrition. Govts may announce a stipend for daily wage workers but that is a small percentage of the population. What can they announce for traders and for medium and small enterprises? They all have large sums of money invested in the system at any given time. If you stop the whole machinery all that money gets stuck and they can go hand-to-mouth within a matter of days. The smallest category of traders — those who buy material every day and sell it every day after value add, are immediately thrown off their sustenance routine. Then there is the question of ensuring that the locked down people are delivered essentials in their homes — because they cannot move out. By shutting down life unilaterally, you jeopardise the entire supply chain.

That’s why lockdowns send the wrong signals to the people and induce panic. People begin to hoard essential supplies because of the uncertainty, sending prices haywire. And we all witnessed how half of India rushed to their hometowns and villages as soon as lockdowns were announced - effectively taking the urban virus to the hinterland. Then we had to lockdown the railways and the airlines too. Next people will use their private transport or non-motorised transport and even walk. You cannot stop them.

Because lockdowns are not well thought out. The orders usually quote a date up to which the lockdown will be effective, but the public is no fool. Since there are no related orders about how things will be managed and what arrangements will be done at the end of the stated period — they know that the date will only get extended. They know that it is an open-ended lockdown with no plan about how to end it. That only increases their panic.

It is agreed that lockdowns are sometimes necessary (like in the case of sectarian violence). But it is a temporary measure. It is NOT THE SOLUTION. The orders and arrangements for the solution have to be a part of the lockdown orders. Even if the govt is not sure how things will pan out, it has to give an impression to the people that it is under control of the situation and must layout its plans and instructions for the future in finite terms. If things do not go as per plan, they can modify the orders later. The public will accept modification of orders but it will not accept complete absence of orders.

A lockdown is supposed to buy time for the govt. But buy time for what? In the present context, what are we buying time for? Most people are aware that a cure to the virus is not in sight for the near foreseeable future. So, what will the lockdown achieve? [Don’t include the people who think that the heat of April will kill the virus — they are not bothered by either the virus or the lockdown] So the govt should layout its plan about how we can manage the situation for the next several months while the virus is still raging everywhere. That plan should include details of which businesses will be allowed to run and which businesses must adapt to producing material for the crisis period or delivering services during the crisis. It must include the necessary arrangements that all business premises must put in place (for health and hygiene) to be allowed to work, arrangements for daily fumigation and disinfecting of public areas, ensuring the supply chain of food and essential items etc.

The plan for the lockdown period may include the govt invoking emergency provisions and taking over private enterprise completely or partially — meaning that their ownership, daily management and manpower will remain unchanged but they will work under instructions from the govt, they will produce what the govt wants them to produce, or use their work force for whatever the govt asks them to do (mainly related to health and supply chains). The plan should include which businesses should essentially close down along with details of the sustenance package for the work force engaged in it.

Just like the army is used in every drastic situation to carry out duties which they are not trained for — the lockdown plan should include people from all walks of life to do what is essential even if they were not trained for it.

If such measures are taken, the people will rise up to the challenge and feel that they are a part of the fight against the virus. They will work whole-heartedly and most importantly, without panicking. Otherwise lockdowns are recipes for a bigger disaster. Please do not think that countries like India can sustain a two-month long lockdown like in Wuhan, China. The structure of the govt and economy in India does not allow that unless special steps are taken (like the ones described above). Those are just a few suggestions. Govt officials should come up with more of them — it's their job and that’s what they are trained for and paid for. The onus is completely on them, not on the politicians who only occupy an executive position temporarily. We have already lost precious time, but intelligent decisions from now onwards can salvage the country from the jaws of disaster.

Indian, Veteran, Always a Student. Trying to fill the gaps in our understanding by putting things to the test of logic and scientific enquiry.