India can move 40% districts out of COVID-19 lockdown

Most districts with no cases positive to novel coronavirus in forested areas, Himalayan regions, the North East

By Rajit Sengupta
Published: Thursday 30 April 2020

The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has led to an unprecedented lockdown of India. The case count in these more than five weeks have jumped to over 30,000; the death toll has crossed 1,000. Whether or not the lockdown will lift on May 3, 2020, and to what extent, may depend on how the disease has spread in various regions. Close to 40 per cent of India’s districts remain covid-19 free, as of April 22, according to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

“These districts have not reported cases so far in spite of the government and not because of it,” said Satish B Agnihotri, head of Centre for Technology Alternatives for Rural Areas, Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai. So, there is little economic sense in having the same measures in both the hotspots and the safe districts.

More than half of the districts in Himalayan states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand did not report any cases positive to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. While six of the 12 Himachal Pradesh districts are COVID-19 free, one of the districts had only one patient. In Uttarakhand, seven out of 13 districts were completely safe and two districts have reported single cases till now.

A similarly positive trend is visible in northeastern states where 84 per cent districts are free from COVID-19. In Arunachal Pradesh, 20 out of 21 districts are covid-free. In Assam 21 out of 33 districts are without a case so far. Several districts in Manipur (14 of 16), Meghalaya (10 of 11), Mizoram (7 of 8) and Tripura (6 of 8) were untouched too.

States with a considerable tribal population also have a large cluster of districts that have not reported cases so far. Nearly 70 per cent districts in Odisha (20 of 30), Chhattisgarh (22 of 27), Jharkhand (16 of 24) and Bihar (24 of 38) are safe.

Almost all the safe districts have one thing in common: Low population density and migration. In Korba district, which has recorded the most cases in Chhattisgarh, the population density is 184 people per sq km. In contrast, Sukma, which has no cases so far, has a density of 45 people per sq km. Similarly in Una district of Himachal Pradesh, with 16 positive cases so far, the population density is 338 people per sq km.

“The lockdown should be removed from the green districts so that the local economy is restored in these areas. This will bring the economy back on rails to some extent,” Agnihotri said. The green areas should only continue to observe precautionary measures such as social distancing, quarantine people coming from outside and lockdown senior citizens.

“If we do not do it, we may have the satisfaction of no deaths due to the virus, but many more will die due to hunger and starvation,” Agnihotri warned.

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