Karnataka will go for a full lockdown starting April 27 night.

Lockdown in streets of MysuruPTI/ Representational Image
Coronavirus COVID-19 Tuesday, April 27, 2021 - 15:42

Karnataka will enter into a state-wide lockdown for two weeks, starting 9 pm on April 27, Tuesday, in light of the present COVID-19 situation. However, according to some public health experts, the state government could have imposed lockdowns at district levels than across the state. In order to minimise the loss and damage to livelihoods due to the pandemic, they said a district or even a taluk centric approach would have been better. 

They pointed out that the situation is dire in some districts, especially Bengaluru, as the health infrastructure is strained and people are struggling to find oxygen and ventilator beds. However, it is not true for all districts.  

“The model of lockdown in Karnataka is flawed. The entire case surge in Karnataka calls for a mature approach by setting up field hospitals at stadiums and restricting location-specific closures,” said Dr Edmond Fernandes, Community Health Physician based in Mangaluru. 

Additionally, the state government should ensure the strict and proper usage of masks at every level, he said. “Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) can be tasked with ensuring location-wise vigilance on mask defaulters. It is easier for the police to regulate the use of masks rather than engaging in crowd control,” added Dr Edmond. 

“A lockdown as a policy affects people, kills the economy, injects panic and treats none. The goal must be to enhance vaccination drives and cover 70% of the state, making the best usage of vaccines available,” he said, adding, “The state must unlock immediately.” 

Why district should make decisions

“Countries, regions, states and districts and other locations are all at different stages of the same pandemic. As before, a one size fits all approach covering the entire state or country is not useful. It often cannot be implemented without major disruptions and inequities,” Dr Prashanth NS, a medical doctor and public health researcher at the Institute of Public Health, Bengaluru.

According to Dr Prashanth, districts could have taken such decisions and impose restrictions in a manner that is context-specific. Unfortunately, district-level decision-making apparatus has not taken off in many districts. 

“Districts/talukas are ideal to make such decisions compared to state-level officials, as local stakeholders can also be informed and consulted in such decisions. NGOs and community-based organisations can be involved. However, we have not yet gone into a ‘culture’ of decentralised governance in the face of disasters,” he said, adding, “I wish that last year's experience could have helped inform our practice, but I guess we have only moved from national lockdown to state lockdown.” 

Dr Prashanth also pointed out the disaster management apparatus, which is supposed to exist in every district under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, could have played a critical role. “This paves the way to rope in various local actors in the decision-making process in a decentralised manner. As far as I know, either these district-level disaster management committees are not regularly meeting.”

He co-authored a BMJ Global Health paper in December 2020 titled ‘Beyond numbers, coverage and cost: adaptive governance for post-COVID-19 reforms in India.’ The paper pointed out, "The burden of adapting vertically flowing instructions and administrative logic into a people-centred service logic, thus, falls disproportionately on the frontline workers. Between these levels of the government, there are glaring gaps, which the pandemic has exposed, placing the burden of delivering an essentially top-down stream of services onto the lower levels.”

Karnataka will enter into a state-wide lockdown for two weeks, starting 9 pm on April 27, Tuesday, in light of the present COVID-19 situation. However, according to some public health experts, the state government could have imposed lockdowns at district levels than across the state. In order to minimise the loss and damage to livelihoods due to the pandemic, they said a district or even a taluk centric approach would have been better. 

They pointed out that the situation is dire in some districts, especially Bengaluru, as the health infrastructure is strained and people are struggling to find oxygen and ventilator beds. However, it is not true for all districts.  

“The model of lockdown in Karnataka is flawed. The entire case surge in Karnataka calls for a mature approach by setting up field hospitals at stadiums and restricting location-specific closures,” said Dr Edmond Fernandes, Community Health Physician based in Mangaluru. 

Additionally, the state government should ensure the strict and proper usage of masks at every level, he said. “Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) can be tasked with ensuring location-wise vigilance on mask defaulters. It is easier for the police to regulate the use of masks rather than engaging in crowd control,” added Dr Edmond. 

“A lockdown as a policy affects people, kills the economy, injects panic and treats none. The goal must be to enhance vaccination drives and cover 70% of the state, making the best usage of vaccines available,” he said, adding, “The state must unlock immediately.” 

Why district should make decisions

“Countries, regions, states and districts and other locations are all at different stages of the same pandemic. As before, a one size fits all approach covering the entire state or country is not useful. It often cannot be implemented without major disruptions and inequities,” Dr Prashanth NS, a medical doctor and public health researcher at the Institute of Public Health, Bengaluru.

According to Dr Prashanth, districts could have taken such decisions and impose restrictions in a manner that is context-specific. Unfortunately, district-level decision-making apparatus has not taken off in many districts. 

“Districts/talukas are ideal to make such decisions compared to state-level officials, as local stakeholders can also be informed and consulted in such decisions. NGOs and community-based organisations can be involved. However, we have not yet gone into a ‘culture’ of decentralised governance in the face of disasters,” he said, adding, “I wish that last year's experience could have helped inform our practice, but I guess we have only moved from national lockdown to state lockdown.” 

Dr Prashanth also pointed out the disaster management apparatus, which is supposed to exist in every district under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, could have played a critical role. “This paves the way to rope in various local actors in the decision-making process in a decentralised manner. As far as I know, either these district-level disaster management committees are not regularly meeting.”

He co-authored a BMJ Global Health paper in December 2020 titled ‘Beyond numbers, coverage and cost: adaptive governance for post-COVID-19 reforms in India.’ The paper pointed out, "The burden of adapting vertically flowing instructions and administrative logic into a people-centred service logic, thus, falls disproportionately on the frontline workers. Between these levels of the government, there are glaring gaps, which the pandemic has exposed, placing the burden of delivering an essentially top-down stream of services onto the lower levels.”

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Mysore Sanjeev, Convenor, Project Jeevan Raksha, an initiative of Proxima, supported by Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), said the mortality of 14 districts have been in single digits from March 21 to April 24 and two districts have had zero deaths. “So if the administration thinks lockdown is the only way to manage the situation, it could be done in a phased manner for critical districts.”

“We have seven crore population, so is it fair to punish 5.5 crore people outside Bengaluru for this. Our Indian economy is largely dependent on physical jobs and who will ensure their daily earnings. If you switch off the economy like your bedroom light, it does not mean it will be back to normal instantly,” he added.

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