Why we should not oppose Sunday lockdowns in Chennai

The TN government has experimented with various moves to contain the spike in cases in Chennai, one of the latest being the Sunday lockdowns. Here's how it could lead to positive results.

Nobel laureate Albert Einstein, who demonstrated extreme patience in his pioneering research, when questioned on his unconventional methodology had once replied, “What is right is not always popular and what is popular is not always right.”

The reply came at a time when he was repeatedly failing in his attempt to establish convincingly the Theory of Relativity. Undeterred, he pursued and his discovery has been the trend setter for many other discoveries in classical physics.

When the coronavirus pandemic first surfaced on 30th January, few expected it to really hit India. February remained subdued but in March, as the cases spiked, governments at the Centre and States started to explore options.

The Centre ordered a curfew on March 22nd while on March 24th, at just 4 hours’ notice, a total lockdown for 21 days was clamped on the nation. The logic behind 21 days was that the incubation period of the virus was 14 days, with an additional 7 days factored in for a neutralizing effect.

The first case in Tamil Nadu (TN) was reported on March 20th. The efforts of the TN government to control COVID-19 was fraught with challenges, much like the efforts of the famed physicist. What appeared to be the right approach in detecting and isolating the infected in one zone of Chennai Corporation proved quite inadequate in another, thereby calling for a different line of action. 

Some of the things the authorities have had to act on with urgency since the start of the pandemic are:

  • Testing; increasing number of tests per day
  • Identifying positive cases
  • Quarantining the infected 
  • Accommodation of large numbers, given the sudden spike in cases
  • Timely medical attention
  • Spreading awareness on isolation and quarantining
  • Supporting the daily needs of those affected
  • Enabling fever clinics to reach citizens in every nook and corner
  • Increasing bed capacity in Corona Care Centres and COVID health centres

All these happened even as the country remained under total lockdown for over two months from March 24th. However, it was evident that the efforts of the government in containing the infected cases were not effective enough, as cases in Chennai and adjoining districts continued to spike. In Chennai, the wholesale vegetable market in Koyambedu was identified as the epicenter and was closed to contain the spread.

Yet the numbers did not come down. Anxiety gripped the city and its administration, which raced against time to determine the root cause so that effective containment measures could be taken. Even when the national lockdown period came to an end, the TN government extended the lockdown for Chennai and adjoining three districts, hoping to bring the situation under control. This was a time when other districts were found to be under better control compared to the capital.

Sunday lockdowns in place: What could be the rationale?

Around the end of June, however, things began to take a turn for the better in Chennai. This prompted the government to relax lockdown restrictions and allow more movement. However, the government declared that every Sunday (From midnight on Saturday to Monday, 5 am) would be a day of total lockdown, with all people strictly confined indoors.

The logic behind these Sunday lockdowns perplexed many. Going by the behavioural pattern of the COVID-19 virus, a single day break between two weeks, when most restrictions would be relaxed, was hard to comprehend. But two weeks on, this appears to have delivered some results indeed.

The one-day lockdown is presumably intended to let people prepare and take necessary steps to keep the pandemic at bay. For example, with shops closed and movement in public areas banned, people will be forced to remain in their house.

Making homes COVID-19 proof, keeping every nook and corner clean and sanitised, washing all that is washable and keeping them ready for use over the week to follow is a time consuming and mindful process, and the Sunday can be used for that.

As we move into times when we have to learn to live with COVID-19, the following are to be carefully attended to:

  1. Scrubbing and fumigation of our dwelling place
  2. With online education becoming the norm, cleaning of all electronic gadgets and decontamination
  3. Decontamination of any PPE and face masks used, or of any other gear used for personal safety.

In other words, lockdown Sundays could prove to be the ideal opportunity to COVID-proof every household. A Sunday holiday, henceforth, will not only be an occasion to rejuvenate our body and mind, but also do whatever is required to strengthen our internal and external resistance against COVID-19.

As we said, it may not be a popular move, but empirically we have seen better results after the implementation of the Sunday lockdown; in fact, even the Uttar Pradesh government is now contemplating this move. Einstein’s remarks ring true once again.

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