COVID-19: At least 427 million people go into lockdown in India

No community transmission but national lockdown most essential, says ICMR director-general  

By Banjot Kaur
Published: Sunday 22 March 2020
Photo: Banjot Kaur / CSE

As many as 427 million people in India will be placed under lockdown, thanks to novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak.

At least four states — Bihar, Rajasthan, Punjab and Delhi — have announced complete lockdowns. Odisha has announced a 40 per cent lockdown. The Union government has advised 75 districts in 22 states to ensure complete restrictions on people's movement.

This is apparently one of the bigger lockdowns in this pandemic. Italy, which is now reporting the maximum deaths globally, has 60 million population quarantines. According to The New York Times, China had confined 760 million people at the peak of its outbreak.

The response of some of the states in India seem to be the same irrespective of cases and population. For instance, Bihar has a population of a little less than 110 million and Punjab, twenty million according to Census 2011. Bihar reported two cases on March 22, 2020 and Punjab has already reported 21 cases.

Both the states, nonetheless, have announced lockdowns. While sharing the list of 75 countries, the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s joint secretary Lav Agarwal said in a press conference on March 22 that this number could go up, depending on the situation.

A summary of the status of lockdowns in various parts of India as announced by various states and the Centre is given below:

State Status of lockdown Population under lockdown Cases as of March 22/9PM
Bihar Complete 104,099,452 2
Punjab Complete 27,743,338 21
Delhi Complete 16,349,831 29
Rajasthan Complete 68,548,437 24
Odisha Partial 16,789,687 2
Andhra Pradesh 3 districts 6,159,934 5
Chandigarh Complete 1,055,450 5
Chhattisgarh 1 district 1,010,433 1
Gujarat 6 districts 24,750,512 18
Haryana 5 districts 6,540,896 21
Himachal Pradesh 1 district 1,510,075 2
UT of J&K 2 districts 13,721,872 4
Karnataka 5 districts 14,484,953 26
Kerala 10 districts 24,057,039 52
UT of Ladakh 2 districts 274,289 13
Madhya Pradesh 1 district 1,055,525 4
Maharashtra 10 districts 43,494,595 64
Puducherry 1 district 41,816 1
Tamil Nadu 3 distrcts 8,896,728 8
Telangana 5 districts 8,550,635 22
Uttar Pradesh 6 districts 23,036,479 27
Uttarakhand 1 district 569,578 3
West Bengal 2 districts 14,506,475 4
TOTAL   427,248,029  

Sources: MoHFW, Census 2011

Important services that would remain exempt from this lockdown include groceries and other food items, water services, postal services, general provision stores, take away / home delivery restaurants, chemists and pharmacies, ATMs, milk plants and petrol pumps.

There are penalty provisions if one does not follow restrictions. Most of the states have announced restrictions according to the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897. One can be imprisoned for six months and / or a fined Rs 1,000 under the provisions of this Act. Indian Penal Code provisions and Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) can also be invoked.

Indian Council of Medical Research Director General Balarama Bhargav projected lockdown as the key to tackling the situation. “Nationwide lockdown is the most essential thing for breaking the chain of transmission of virus in the country,” he said twice in the March 22 presser.

In the same vein, health ministry officials and Bhargav dismissed that there was any instance of community transmission in India despite the fact that there existed at least five cases whose source of transmission could not be linked to international travel or contact history.

While experts are divided over efficiency of lockdown as they have significant impact on various sectors and marginalised people, World Health Organization has given the idea of indiscriminate lockdown a thumbs down.

In an interview to the BBC on March 22, WHO’s emergency programme director Mike Ryan said countries simply could not lock down societies without ensuring proportional public health measures. He said, “The danger right now with the lockdowns ... if we don’t put in place the strong public health measures now, when those movement restrictions and lockdowns are lifted, the danger is the disease will jump back up.”

Are we doing enough?

Bhargav said India was doing enough on the testing front. He said the UK, France, the United States, Germany, Italy and South Korea were testing 16,000, 10,000, 26,000, 42,000, 52,000, and 80,000 samples per week. India is capable of testing 50,000 samples per week. But how many are we actually testing? “5,000 per week,” he replied to a query.

Government officials said instead of isolating a few beds in different hospitals for COVID-19 patients, they would be earmarking one or more hospitals in entirety in various districts depending on their population size. Agarwal said there were enough ventilators, personnel protective equipment (PPEs) for doctors and other necessary things for the management of the pandemic. He however, refused to provide their numbers and said, “The Centre has placed an order of 1,200 ventilators already.”

The ministry officials said it was the job of states to procure this equipment. The Centre would provide only additional support.

The states can use National Rural Health Mission funds or state disaster response funds. He, yet again, refused to say as to what the strength of current isolation beds, PPEs and ventilators was, saying all of them were in sufficient number.

Agarwal, however, tended to allay fears over daily wagers and the poor being affected due to lockdowns. He said state governments and central ministries had been approached to do their bit in this regard.

DISCLAIMER: Changes have been made in the calculation of population figures

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