Fighting smarter

In its battle against latest wave of COVID, Delhi must go by the science, calibrate its response, resist stringent lockdown.

Hit by an alarming rise in COVID infections over the past three weeks, Delhi once again faces the difficult challenge of balancing lives and livelihoods. The Delhi government has, so far, rightly refused to reimpose a total lockdown. It has, instead, talked of increasing the number of tests, improving contact tracing and scaling up its health infrastructure — the Centre has also pitched in to support the national capital’s endeavour. But with experts blaming the current surge on crowding in markets during festivals, questions continue to be raised about Delhi’s containment methods. Much of the criticism is valid — the Delhi government did not read the early signs of a surge in infection, its information drive during the festive season left much to be desired and the task of ramping up medical amenities was left too late. But as it responds to the current emergency, the Arvind Kejriwal government should stay the course on its stated position on lockdowns. While it considers imposing selective restrictions — it has reportedly sought the Centre’s permission to shut down markets in hotspots — the government would do well to send out the message that the proposed measures do not portend a return to the days when businesses lost contact with customers and people were locked out of the job market.

Lockdowns are blunt instruments that should not be the first line of response in a public health emergency. They were necessary to check the dangerous transmission of the coronavirus during the early days of the pandemic when very little was known about the pathogen. The measures have unleashed a collateral tragedy that continues to take a high toll more than four months after the easing of the lockdown. Reports in this newspaper have shown how the economic disruption dealt a cruel blow to the lives and fortunes of people ranging from workers at the lowest rung of the economic ladder to middle-class families. Many who had left small towns to seek a better life in the country’s metros and big cities, including Delhi, found their aspirations thwarted and set back. A report in this newspaper on Thursday shone a light on the devastating toll on the capital’s working women, many of whom are first-time earners and sole breadwinners in their families.

The latest surge in Delhi is another indicator of the unpredictable ways of the coronavirus. But we are much better equipped to deal with the contagion, both in terms of scientific knowledge and medical capabilities, compared to four months ago. For instance, the super-spreader theory — a few events or localities are responsible for creating webs of transmission — is now an important part of the anti-COVID discourse. New learnings have opened pathways to calibrated and targeted responses to the pathogen, that can contain its spread without destroying livelihoods. It is this knowledge that the Delhi government must turn to, and draw from, as it grapples with the virus.

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