Lockdown, currently the most effective mechanism of restricting transmission of infections of the deadly coronavirus, is undergoing relaxation on economic activities, education, sports and others in many countries. These decisions are being taken to return to normal way of life. The last few months’ lockdown extremely disrupted normal life and caused loss of jobs, closes of offices, shutdown of businesses and many others across the world, despite effects vary across countries – and people within a country. But the most threatening concern is that withdrawal measures, which somehow differ from one country to another, reflect inadequate attention to the present situations of transmissions and the possibility of further transmissions, increased deaths tolls and re-imposition of lockdown in the coming days.
Obviously, withdraw of lockdown is ideally preferred when there is no transmission. Relaxed lockdowns amidst the present exponential and uncontrolled situations of transmission can have dangerous repercussions. Easing lockdowns increased infections in some countries already. On the contrary, absence of normal activities including economic and education can lead to economic catastrophe, semester or year loss in education, psychological trauma and many others consequences. Lockdown-driven potential economic downturns alone can cause starvation and deaths of many, predominantly in less developed countries. In the mean time, disadvantaged including ultra-poor and low income group have started to face difficulties due to prolonged lockdown. Expectedly, such a dilemma led many to rightly raise the relevant question on what to choose between normal life and lockdown.
But the options cannot be either-or type at all, especially when both the restoration of usual life including economic activities and the protection from the viral transmissions is crucial. Indeed, for some lockdowns are preferred, for others it is normal activities including economic, and still for others it may be both on reasonable grounds. But securing both options in the safest possible way depends on how well plans and strategies are made on relaxing lockdowns, unless the vaccine – the only universal remedy to the pandemic – is developed and reached to all. In this regard, both area-wise and sector-wise planning can be taken into account to prevent infections, save lives, protect economies and provide scope of other usual activities.
In area-wise planning, different areas within a country can be divided into four: high-risk, medium-risk, low-risk and no-risk. Based on international and national guidelines, including the WHO guidelines, as much as possible and consultations with epidemiologists and health professionals, acceptable scientific criteria, including the number of infections in an area, are required for such a planning. In the sector-specific planning, different sectors can be rated in terms of high-risk, medium-risk and low-risk. Obviously, some acceptable criteria including congestion, the number of employees and the number of customers are also needed for sector-wise planning. Withdrawal plans of a country need to be made by taking both area-wise and sector-wise segregation simultaneously into account.
Most normal activities including economic, sports and education (face-to-face) except health and other essential services such as some public services must be avoided in high-risk areas or hotspots, unless such areas become no-risk ones. But moderate to low-risk sectors in moderate to low-risk areas can be opened, even though high-risk sectors in moderate and low-risk areas can be shunned for preventing transmissions and protecting lives. Certainly, full withdrawal is ideally wanted when all areas turned to be no-risk. But some countries having insufficient tests but some infections may fail to make area-wise exit plans. Such countries can apply sector-wise planning process and pass up high-risk economic and other sectors, while consider moderate and low-risk ones, until area-wise planning is made.
Micro and macro economy, currently rendered as the most significant stimulation for relaxing lockdowns, is obviously crucial for livelihoods and the reduction of potential economic catastrophe. Yet, all economic sectors cannot be relaxed. Congested factories, large-scale shopping malls, tourism industry and mass transports can carry high risks of transmission and may also be situated at high-risk areas. But there must be uninterrupted production and supplies of foods, PPEs, medicines and other required items. To boost economies, prioritization is needed to identify crucial, but moderately and lowly risk economic activities subjecting to the above planning process. Obviously, planned withdrawal requires government to provide essential supports to disadvantaged and offer appropriate stimulus packages in consultation with economists, businessmen and others.
To keep transmission of Covid-19 under control, withdrawal of lockdown must include some rigorous health safety measures at relaxed offices and workplaces, transportations, communities and others. Some crucial steps including adequate physical distancing and usage of some types of PPEs especially masks must be made mandatory at workplaces/offices, marketplaces, religious prayer grounds, communities, etc. Workstations need to take some extra initiatives like adequate hand-sanitization/washing facilities and making employee aware of workplace safety rules. Obviously, adequate disinfectant measures are needed in transports. Also, strong public health team and infection control team must be engaged to ensure the implementation of national infection control guidelines and supervise infection control mechanism especially of all relaxed workplaces.
Of course, national public health capacity must be sufficiently improved with rapid contract tracing mechanism, adequate testing facilities, testing and health services, along with isolation and quarantine. Such services must cover workplaces and others including communities, until transmission is fully controlled, either with the development of any effective vaccine and or any other means. Persons identified as infected in workplaces, communities or others need to given appropriate treatment services. Obviously, persons coming from risk areas or countries must be taken into quarantine for 14 days, preferably institutional quarantine because of better management and low possibility of further infections. In addition, misperception should be well-addressed with standardized risk communications.
Last of all, concerned authorities, law-enforcing agencies in particular, needs to make sure that national withdrawal plans and strategies including maintenance of physical distancing at public places are adequately implemented. But law-enforcers, who are increasingly being infected in many countries, must be protected with adequate quality PPEs. Moreover, it is imperative to ensure that human rights issues are taken into account in enforcing withdrawal rules as much as possible. Simultaneously, different tiers of people, businessmen, employees, labourers and others, have responsible roles to play to reduce transmission. Indeed, there is no alternative to cooperation from all tiers in successful transition.
The writer writes on social, political, environmental, public health and international relations