- A lockdown can be defined as an emergency protocol implemented by the authorities that prevents people from leaving a given area. A full lockdown will mean that the people in the given area must stay where they are and must not exit or enter a building or given area. A preventive lockdown is a preemptive plan effected to address an unusual situation or weakness in a system to forestall any danger to people, organization or system. Lockdowns should be imposed only after adequate preparation and planning.
- At this point of time where India is witnessing over 4000 daily deaths, drought of medical oxygen, collapsing health infrastructure and fast spread of pandemic into rural areas, the imposition of lockdown is imminent. Many states already under one form of lockdown or another. At this point of time Kerala model of lockdown can be a perfect example for other states to follow.
The Kerala model:
- Early Response to Pandemic: From beginning of this year, Kerala Government provided detailed information on the rate of infections and fatalities; the availability of beds, ICUs, oxygen and vaccines; as well as measures taken to deal with the crisis.
- Proactive and Transparent approach: Kerala government engaged media on daily basis to ensure transparency in fighting the pandemic which is absent in many worst-affected States. A direct, open and proactive approach in this regard would go a long way in building popular trust and confidence that the crisis can be overcome.
- Special attention to Food availability: Community kitchens and Janakeeya hotels (people’s hotels) have been opened during this lockdown.
- Multilevel treatment centres: First-level treatment centres and second-level treatment centres have been set up to ensure that patients are screened and treated appropriate to their symptoms. Only the most serious cases reach the district and specialty COVID-19 hospitals. Domiciliary care centres have also been created to provide shelter, food and treatment to those who do not have the space at home to be quarantined. In private hospitals, 50% of the beds have been declared as COVID-19 beds.
- Focus on Migrants: Focused efforts are underway to assure migrant workers that they need not flee to their hometowns in panic because of the lockdown. Communications in Hindi have been issued, clarifying that they will be provided food as well as vaccination.
- Centralised Control Rooms: Beds are allotted through centralised control rooms in each district. These rooms also monitor requirements of oxygen and ambulances. Orders have been issued pegging the cost of RT-PCR testing and treatment charges in private hospitals at a reasonable level.
- Kerala High Court: The Kerala High Court has stepped in to supervise the government’s response. It has dismissed challenges from private labs to the reduction of charges and in response to a PIL, approved a rate card for hospitals prepared by the government. Coming down on private hospitals, the court pointed out how shocked it was at the usurious charges levied by some for the simplest of services.
- Empowered Local bodies: Having empowered local bodies and devolved finances to them long before the crisis, elected officials at the grassroots level are Kerala’s first line of defence in the fight against COVID-19. Panchayat members and municipal councillors, irrespective of their political affiliations, function as foot soldiers. They look out for fresh infections amongst their constituents, motivate people to get vaccinated, supervise the implementation of the lockdown and ensure the supply of medicines and provisions to those in need.
The most important aspect of lockdown must be to mitigate the impact of these lockdowns on the lives of the poor by guaranteeing food and equitable access to healthcare. The Kerala model deserves attention in this regard. There are also best practices from other States which could be emulated across the country, such as the Tamil Nadu government’s announcement of incentives for healthcare workers.