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In phase-I, business establishments, places of worship, hotels, restaurants and malls will be opened from 8 June. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
In phase-I, business establishments, places of worship, hotels, restaurants and malls will be opened from 8 June. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

Unlock 1.0: Fresh challenges in tackling covid-19

  • Public health experts said the responsibility lies with individuals and communities to ensure social distancing and hygiene at public places and at work. That said, it will not be easy considering India’s burgeoning population and lack of awareness among people.

NEW DELHI: Unlock 1.0, announced by the Union home ministry on Saturday, may have brought cheer to a majority of Indians and industry leaders, but restart of businesses and crowds on the roads may pose fresh challenges for the government in tackling covid-19.

The lifting of the world’ severest 70-day lockdown from Monday is expected to hit efforts to tackle the covid-19 pandemic in a major way, with the country’s total tally of cases nearing two lakhs and toll crossing 5,000.

In phase-I, business establishments, places of worship, hotels, restaurants and malls will be opened from 8 June, exposing the population to coronavirus as huge crowds will gather at a time when there is a spurt in covid-19 cases.

“In phase 1 the risk of coronavirus spread will be very high because when you transit from a lock down state to opening up slippage are many. Religious places particularly and the market places will not be able to adhere to the norms and unknowingly it will spread leading to the community spread," said Arup Mitra, a health economist and Professor of Economics at the Institute of Economic Growth (IEG), Delhi University. “In states with large metro cities the spear will be rampant. But strictly observing the containment zones the pace of spread can be reduced."

Public health experts said the responsibility lies with individuals and communities to ensure social distancing and hygiene at public places and at work. That said, it will not be easy considering India’s burgeoning population and lack of awareness among people.

“Adequate safeguards required, especially in religious worship places. Hotels, restaurants and malls will need to take extra precautions allowing adequate distancing between tables. But significant protection is required for air circulations and ACs need to be equipped with protective mechanisms," said Dr Sakthivel Selvaraj. Director, Health Economics, Financing and Policy, Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), a public private partnership initiative on health.

With the pandemic growing each day, according to union health ministry, around 80% of cases are in the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh; and 60% of active cases were in five cities of Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Pune and Thane. Similarly, deaths are also concentrated in urban areas in 10 states.

“Shifting focus from states to cities will help us strategize the approach to contain the virus spread. Considering that there is large number of asymptotic cases, we have to keep in mind that we cater for 10 times of actual positive cases for planning purpose," said Girdhar Gyani, Director General, Association of Healthcare Providers (India).

“Considering that covid-19 is highly contagious and spreads through physical contact and via droplets, the thickly populate regions like noticed in Mumbai and Ahmedabad will continue to be serious spreaders and we need to look at institutional quarantine for such people," he said.

Even though the government on Sunday maintained that a cumulative total of 86,983 people has been cured taking the total recovery rate to 47.76%, the movement of people may impact the control of spreading of virus and further pressurise the health infrastructure in the country.

While in phase 2 of the unlocking, schools and educational institutions will be opened after taking a decision in July, the phase 3 will see opening up of international air travel, Metro rail, gyms, swimming pools, bars, social, political and academic functions. For this, the dates are to be decided based on assessment of situation. “In phase 2, with the opening up of educational institutions the probability of spread is supposed to be high and if social distancing norms will not be observed more infected cases will be there," said Mitra.

“In phase 3 with the opening up of the international airlines etc there will be a risk of revival. Particularly in the states with large metro cities and international connectivity the incidence of spread can be really high," he said.

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