Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Tuesday announced a lockdown for 15 days, taking the state back to square one. The state administration seems to have accepted defeat in the fight against Covid-19 and chosen the method of inaction.
Throughout the pandemic, Maharashtra has been the worst performer consistently. Now, with a disproportionately high fatality rate, the statewide implementation of Section 144, which will paralyse daily life, is another setback for its citizens. For a state which boasts of many urbanized centres, it has failed miserably in curbing the surge in infections and put pressure on its healthcare system.
With 60,212 fresh cases, the number of active cases in Maharashtra stands at 593,042. Disturbing reports have begun to emerge from various parts of the state, from hospitals looting patients to a lack of beds resulting in deaths. The unavailability of Remdesivir has led to hoarding. Inadequate oxygen supply has been a cause of concern. People running from pillar to post to secure hospital beds, medicines and ventilator facilities has turned it into a tragedy on a mass scale. How did Maharashtra end up in such a precarious position while Delhi is holding on despite facing a surge too?
Inadequate testing and contact tracing by the government of Maharashtra, combined with a lax attitude, have led to Covid cases shooting through the roof. The Covid positivity rate has reached the dangerous threshold of 29%. Out of the 2.20 lakh tests done, approximately 63,000 have turned out to be positive cases, which indicates an appalling state of affairs. Overall, there have been 34 lakh cases out of 2.20 crore tests.
The positivity statistics in Maharashtra are way ahead of the all-India average of 5%. Meanwhile, Delhi, despite a high density of population, has a positivity rate which is not over the national average. Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are at 2% and 1%, respectively. Even a relatively urbanised and large state like Tamil Nadu has held its own with an impressive 6%.
Given the high occurrence of the infection in Maharashtra, evident from such a high positivity rate, there is an urgent need to ramp up testing. The state cannot fight Covid unless the true extent of the spread is known. Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his discussion with Chief Ministers has already sought increased testing along with widespread vaccination as a sustainable tool to fight the virus.
Maharashtra with its imposition of another lockdown is taking a step backwards. Last year’s experience has taught us that lockdowns are not a permanent or sustainable solution, but merely the postponing of the inevitable. The need of the hour for the state is to ramp up infrastructure and increasing testing, while letting normal life run as usual, until the positivity rates are in a comfortable position. This way the state may surely enter the list of badly hit Covid-infected states, but will succeed in saving lives by timely interventions.
The steep fall in the mortality rate in Maharashtra may either mean a sign of hope or be considered a result of undercounting due to a lack of reporting. Whatever the case, it is getting increasingly clearer that the economic costs of a lockdown far exceed the supposed benefits.
Unlike the previous year when the scientific community’s knowledge of the virus was limited, the world is better off today, especially with vaccines available in varying degrees of effectiveness. The original lockdown served its purpose of buying time and letting India manufacture a lot of medical items like PPE kits, which aided the fight initially and made the lockdown worthwhile. But now, we have reached a point where a lockdown will lead to diminishing returns in terms of the fight against Covid-19.
The author is a BJP spokesperson and former executive director of the Maharashtra Village Social Transformation Foundation. The views expressed are personal.