How does one balance the debate between totalitarian impulse and necessary protocols to appeal to the public?
What does a lockdown signify?
"Lockdown" isn’t a term used in everyday vocabulary, yet in times of a pandemic, it is the unofficial word for anything under the umbrella of quarantining. This includes recommendations to stay at home, complete restrictions on certain businesses, and even bans on events and gatherings.
World over, lockdowns have been introduced in different ways to ensure that more and more people don’t get infected with COVID-19. Social distancing and good hygiene measures have been encouraged. People who show symptoms are being asked to isolate themselves and get tested.
Lockdown strategies all over the world
The most common method of trying to reduce the spread of infection is by shutting down non-essential services such as restaurants and offices, restricting congregations like schools, allowing government facilities to function at a barebones capacity, and ensuring hospitals and grocers stay open to provide services. This has been encouraged in nearly all countries [as of 29th of March], including India, Pakistan, Germany, New Zealand, U.S.A., U.K., South Africa, until mid-April.
Russia, on the other hand, hasn’t been very specific about its lockdown policies. A week’s worth of paid leave was offered to everyone, and people over 65 have been told to stay inside. Their free transport passes have been cancelled to ensure this. Australia has also its borders and enforced a lockdown, but has left schools open and asked parents to use their discretion in sending children to schools.
India and South Africa have received flak for the way they enforced shut down, due to lower economic classes not being able to access rations and resources in time for the shutdown. The use of water cannons, rubber bullets, and sticks (lathis) has been reported.
The U.A.E. has imposed an overnight curfew until April 5 under a nationwide campaign to sterilise streets and public places. Saudi Arabia has imposed a partial curfew. Migrant workers in the Gulf are stuck in these cities due to most places having suspended international travel.
All countries have also brought out financial packages in the billions to help their economies in respect to COVID-19 research, buying more medical equipment, supplying resources to those who have no access to them, and saving businesses and the stock market.
Lockdowns in theory
A 2005 report by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America on H5N1, also called bird flu, showed that the virus persisted in its birthplace (China) for nearly 10 years and had been repeatedly introduced into neighbouring regions, turning Asia into grounds for a pandemic threat. In such a case, seeing as China was where COVID-19 originated from, is a simple lockdown an effective measure for pandemics in the future?
A study by Cambridge University has suggested that while the lockdown in India will slow down the spread of the virus, the infections will still continue to grow and cross 6,000 by May. Although the study has not been peer-reviewed yet and has been posted in the scientific archive by the researchers, it suggests that a method of ‘stop-start-stop’ when it comes to lockdowns is the best way to control it, so that people can also build an immunity to the virus after being exposed to in a weaker strength. It also suggests that two or three lockdowns with five-day breaks in between could stretch the slowdown longer. But the virus would still return.
The countries that seem to be handling the virus best are South Korea, Cuba, and Germany. South Korea has managed to get to a stage where infections are lesser than those who are recovering. Cuba has sent out a team of doctors to help control Italy’s cases and has come up with a trial drug that works for COVDI-19, and Germany, who has the 5th most number of cases in the world, has seen a mortality rate of only 0.5%.
What ties these countries together is their vigorous testing regime. South Korea introduced a drive-through testing method to get as many people tested as soon as possible. Cuba and Germany also followed broad testing patterns. There has also been spread of timely information, access to public resources, and heightened border control.
Andrew Napolitano, a former U.S.A judge accuses government officials—federal, state, and local—of “totalitarian impulses” and argues that “no matter the state of difficulties—whether war or pestilence—the Constitution protects our natural rights, and its provisions are to be upheld when they pinch, as well as when they comfort.” If liberty and freedom can be taken away in times of crisis, is it truly liberty? Is it not then more similar to a permission slip on the whims of the politicians in power? While it is essential to maintain social distancing, server policing for the same is equivalent to a fascist state.
Similarly, Benjamin Franklin once said, “Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
- Lockdowns do help reduce the spread of diseases, but they cannot be the end-all measures to fighting a pandemic. Through testing and R&D into healthcare, and understanding the disease is the need of the hour. We should also get a chance to build immunity against the virus if it's here to stay. Lockdowns are also not the most democratic way of handling a pandemic, and a more thoughtful, people-centric approach must be thought of to achieve a balance between preventive care and outright stripping away of rights.
- Implementation of precautionary measures is dependent on proper communication of the situation, i.e. communication that allows one to understand the risks, that ensures correct knowledge, hygiene, and skills to enable precautionary practices.
- As per the OECD, the response to a new pandemic is based on four variables- surveillance and detection, clinical management of cases, prevention of the spread in the community and maintaining essential services. An interdisciplinary approach across these is the best way to control and ensure a pandemic situation.