Indefinite suspension of the Indian Premier League after participants tested Covid positive underlines that no one and no economic activity is safe until everyone is safe. By keeping crowds out of stadiums, IPL had eliminated the superspreader dangers of mass political or religious gatherings. But keeping players protected and preserving the bio-bubble in Delhi while the pandemic raged outside proved too tough. BCCI should also examine how the basic protocols followed by franchises successfully in UAE last year failed in an Indian milieu.
Staging IPL amid a public health emergency had its supporters and detractors. BCCI noted that it had “tried to bring in some positivity and cheer” amid difficult times for India. In addition sport is a jobs and revenue generator. So what has happened here is definitely relevant for the country at large. It is a stark reminder that reviving economic activity to pre-pandemic or pre-second-wave levels will be possible only when the tools to fight Covid are optimally deployed and the current surge is brought down to manageable levels. This could be why CII president Uday Kotak has mooted a “nationwide maximal response measure at the highest level” and curtailment of all “non-essential economic activity” to break the chain of transmission.
But the widespread destruction of livelihoods by last year’s “hard” lockdown should not be forgotten, nor the painful logjams created in separating essential and non-essential activities, many of which actually worsened the health toll of the pandemic. Of course different restrictions are anyway under effect in different parts of the country, and localised controls will continue to be needed for some time. As far as the stated aim is to reduce viral transmission and bring down caseloads to manageable levels for doctors, many of whom are close to breaking point, governments should not use movement curbs as a proxy for essential pandemic governance. As the undermining of green corridors for ambulances by increased police chowkis illustrates, lockdowns can even aggravate India’s medical supply chain crisis.
Fixing the vaccine pipeline, enabling mass uptake of medical grade masks, improving the quality of testing, more genome sequencing, plugging the logistical leakages for medicines and oxygen, upping triage management to reduce the exhaustion of both health seekers and health givers etc – experts have been clear and convincing on what will really make a difference. Lockdowns are no magic bullet. Getting these fundamental public health responses right is the only path to normalcy.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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