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Say no to lockdown in Delhi and elsewhere

The coronavirus has not just killed lakhs of people, shattered economies, and devastated lives; it has also brought into question the credibility of experts and even scientists; worse, it has damaged the collective psyche to such an extent that rational decision making at the top political levels has become difficult. The same nostrums with dubious efficacy are seriously discussed and even implemented; the lockdown is a conspicuous example. It failed at the national level, and yet it is being contemplated—and implemented in smaller measures—all over the country, including in Arvind Kejriwal-ruled Delhi.

Consider this: A serological survey was conducted between June 27 and July 10. About 21,400 random samples were taken from 11 districts of the national capital. “The results of the sero-prevalence study show that on average, across Delhi, the prevalence of IgG antibodies is 23.48 per cent. The study also indicates that a large number of infected persons remain asymptomatic. Nearly six months into the epidemic, only 23.48 per cent of the people are affected in Delhi, which has several pockets of dense population,” the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said in a statement.

Later serological surveys showed higher numbers of people with antibodies. What these surveys showed was that the lockdown, which was supposed to stop the spread of the coronavirus, was a complete failure in terms of arresting the spread of Covid-19. Had the drastic measure been successful, every fourth person would not have been exposed to the virus and developed antibodies.

With a spurt in the number of corona cases in the national capital in the last few days, demand for another lockdown has reached a crescendo. There were strong rumors about another lockdown being on the cards. On Friday, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal ruled it out at a function, “Lockdown should only be imposed when the government wants some time to delay the number of increasing Covid cases. We have enough number of beds, ventilators, and home care center. There is no point of imposing fresh lockdown.”

The wise learn from the mistakes of others; the fools from their own. But the powers that be seem determined to learn nothing, not even from their own mistakes.

There are several reasons for the popularity of lockdown among the political class. First, it shows that government is doing something; it is serious, solicitous of the interests of the man in the street. Second, it draws huge attention—and every politician has a lust for attention. Thirdly, it marginalizes other problems, like sluggish economic growth, unemployment, law and order inadequacies, red tape, and corruption.

It is time our political masters, policy makers, and top mandarins gave up their fascination for fashionable but inefficacious measures. The lockdown has indeed been worse than inefficacious: it has had a baneful impact on the economy and unemployment, especially of those at the bottom of the pyramid. Most of the people who have lost jobs are unskilled and skilled laborers; software engineers, for instance, have not been as badly hit.

Therefore, it will be folly, pure and simple, to bring back lockdown..