While experts say that a lockdown will provide immediate respite to overcrowded hospitals and healthcare centres, one week is not enough to curb the spread.

Bengaluru lockdown for seven days: Are short-term lockdowns helpfulPTI/Representation Photo
Coronavirus Coronavirus Tuesday, July 14, 2020 - 16:51

The one-week lockdown in Bengaluru is set to begin at 8pm on Tuesday and end at 5am on July 22, with Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa reiterating that the lockdown is unlikely to be extended. The total number of active patients with COVID-19 in hospitals and isolation centres in Bengaluru as of Monday was 15,052. The number of cases being reported daily are also on the steady rise. With the government scrambling to arrange for beds, ambulances and oxygen units, the larger question is whether the one-week lockdown will buy enough time for gathering resources and curbing the spread?

TNM spoke to epidemiologists and a public health expert for insight into whether the seven-day lockdown would help in any way. While experts argued that the seven-day lockdown could be helpful for immediate relief, it is unlikely to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. 

Immediate respite for hospitals

Dr Jayaprakash Muliyil, a renowned epidemiologist and former Principal of the Christian Medical College, Vellore said the only justification for a lockdown was to give hospitals that are seeing high patient loads some respite. 

“Officials would have been looking at the (lack of) beds and said we need a break. After one week, when you open up, you will find that cases are coming down a bit because for one week you all stayed at home because human to human transmission is coming down.  But after one week of lockdown, cases will climb all over again,” said Dr Muliyil. 

Emphasising that only severe cases of COVID-19 need hospitalisation with a majority of those infected by the SARS-CoV-2 requiring home isolation, Dr Muliyil said, “When you have a good lockdown, transmission will slightly come down. Our public health problem is when people develop life threatening illnesses, we should be able to keep them in a hospital, and save them.” 

He added that a lockdown doesn't get rid of the virus and only delays transmission. “You have bought little time so you can clear the patients you already have, and make way for others,” he said. 

Not enough to curb spread

T Sundararaman,a former director of the National Health Systems Resource Centre and former Dean of School of Health System Studies at the Tata Institute of Social Science (TISS), said that the one-week lockdown will only provide immediate respite to hospitals in the surge of cases. This will help testing labs to catch up on backlogs and hospitals to reduce intake of COVID-19 patients. 

“Curbing cases cannot happen in one week but there will be relatively lesser cases by the end of next week. The lockdown will only delay a further surge in cases but it will provide immediate respite to hospitals and healthcare centres,” he added. 

He said that curbing cases can occur only through effective contact tracing measures and enforcement of home quarantine norms. “A 28-day lockdown will be required to curb the spread. If this cannot happen, then contact tracing should be done. Letting go of that or not doing it effectively, will ensure that the spread cannot be controlled,” he added. 

One week not enough to iron out logistical issues?

Dr Giridhar Babu, epidemiologist with the Public Health Foundation of India, who was formerly in the COVID-19 expert committee in Karnataka, said that the state government’s priority is not to curb the spread at this point in time, but to prepare itself for a surge in cases. The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike and the Health Department in Karnataka had not made adequate logistical arrangements and procured the resources to handle a surge, during the April-May lockdown. 

“With the surge in cases over the last three weeks, the government was caught unprepared and the one week lockdown is mainly to iron out coordination mechanisms, prepare an app for distribution of beds, manpower requirements, ambulances, Personal Protective Equipment and antigen kits,” Dr Babu maintained. 

T Sundaraman argued that one-week is not enough to gather resources required to handle a surge in cases. “In one week, how can the government accomplish what it could not do during two months of lockdown? It will give them some respite for a week but ensuring that there are enough resources like manpower, beds, ventilators and testing kits takes longer. This will only reduce pressure on the existing situation but the one-week lockdown is a knee-jerk reaction than concentrated action,” he said. 

More than a week of lockdown?

Dr Giridhar Babu maintained that the expert committee for COVID-19 in Karnataka had recommended a 21-day or three-week lockdown starting July 14. However, due to concerns related to continuation of economic activities, the state government decided to impose it for a week, he said. 

“Even announcing a one-week lockdown was a difficult decision for the government. We are hoping that the government can make necessary arrangements to tackle the situation within a week. The government should have fixed all these problems a few months ago. Now we can only hope they can do it in a week,” he added. 

With inputs from Anna Isaac