We are now into the most hilarious experiments of centuries to come. East (Purbo) Razabazaar is under lockdown since midnight, with the beginning of 10th June. But the news has been in the media for last two days. The live coverage during the last hour before the lockdown visibly revealed that many were leaving the area on vehicles and on foot. A TV reporter mentioned of the police in PPE who allegedly recovered from Covid-19 and this was their first assignment after recovery. My chest ballooned thinking that the authority was smart to engage people with antibody. I forgot that the tests can be 'False Negative' and the error terms is alleged by some to run in the range of 40%! I had also forgotten that one Dr. Ferdous was quarantined even though he reportedly carried antibody! Very soon, however, I was astounded hearing a police (as the reporter said) mention that he was tested positive on last 30th (May). We were still on 9th June, before the lockdown in Purbo Razabazaar began, and this guy in PPE was tested positive only 10 days before!
Imagine all these happening a day before the budget around which so much hush hush goes around, lest the 'scrupulous' citizens and businesses make budgetary instruments obsolete. Or, think of the police declaring its intent to raid a nightclub after two days to seize the club's illegal possessions! How effective can such policies be? If the people in an area is severely infected, the intent of a lockdown can only be to contain that infection. Earlier I had dealt with the subject in details in a Bangla daily (12 April, Bonik Barta). A strict lockdown would imply: (i) no person leaves the locality unless she/he is tested negative and has no known symptoms, (ii) no person is allowed to enter the area, (iii) goods & services, including internet connectivity and mobile services, are provided (allowed to flow into the area) under strict supervision, (iv) planned segmentation of the population needs to be enforced after testing of all individuals and organized provisioning of all essential services, and (v) provision for limited mobility inside the area may be allowed.
For an effective lockdown, we need a team of multiple actors (service providers) whose actions are coordinated under a single authority and by using various modes of communications. Ideally, such a team should remain on standby and engage in a well-demarcated area without notice. It is true that the Indian experiment caused much misery to the migrant laborers, and I consider absence of counter measures as gross sins against humanity. That does not justify early announcements to let people move out of the area without scrutiny! On the contrary, the team formation to implement lockdown measures should provide for quick testing and allowing Covid19-negative and asymptomatic cases leave the area and stay out till the lockdown is withdrawn.
The above design has two caveats. First, there may be offices inside the area whose employees come from outside. Second, there are people living inside a locked-downed area who attend offices located outside. In case of emergencies, the former may be attended to by providing escort services with adequate health protections. No such leniency may however be justified for the latter, in which case, absentee employees' rights to regular pay may be protected through government notification.
The damage has already been done due to poor professionalism at the level of decisionmakers. Large number of people have moved out, amongst whom the incidence of infection is likely to be higher than those remaining inside! People do not yet have the trust on government-provided services, nor has any government authority clearly spelled those out to general citizens of the country. Upon seeing poor judgment in piloting lockdown in an extremely small area, the trust is likely to dwindle further.
I would earnestly urge the authority not to belittle our intelligence. It is high time that the stage-shows be abandoned, communities be mobilized, and a fresh governance structure be developed. I only wish that the people in power realize their own good and handover specialized responsibilities to the professionals or groups of professionals within as well as outside the government. The traditional structure of decision-making and governance have also dragged on resources and valuable time putting the society in a limbo in the fight against a pandemic. Let us all get the opportunity to breathe in Hopes ushered by sensible, trustworthy and professional decision-making!
Dr Sajjad Zohir, is the Executive Director of Economic Research Group (ERG)