Sikkim Lockdown – Are we pushing the panic button?

Courtesy: Times of India

Unified patience and determination were what the Prime Minister stressed on while addressing the nation on March 20th. As he encouraged and compelled every Indian to face the COVID-19 pandemic in unity, he also called for the “Janta Curfew”, addressing it as a by the public, for the public 14 hour-long lockdowns.

It was essential as seen from a public health standpoint, as it served as a mass drill for days to come. Though it was also called as a means to defeat the virus, which came as a flood of social media messages, fake in its core. The curfew gave every Indian a perspective of how a potential future lockdown would come by. This realisation came into fruition a little sooner than expected for Sikkim as the Government announced a lockdown from March 25th to March 31st.

The lockdown and the manner that it has been imposed itself begat several questions and doubts among Sikkimese general public. The foremost being of what the use of a lockdown is.

These lockdowns as a government’s response, speaking globally, are current in the ever surging COVID-19, these include the issues of protocols, restrictions in travel advisories and guidelines as issued by the government, quarantine facilities, testing and screening, etc. Although the initiative is a thoughtful one from the government, it does lack a tangible blueprint for the layout of the lockdown, which might result in the delays indecision and lack of communication and the underplaying factor of public misinformation.

The world has seen an abundant usage of terms, often reciprocating: lockdowns, mass gatherings, curfews, shutdowns, social distancing, prohibition, stay at home, shelter-in-place, home quarantine, isolation, etc., to stand for some or all the actions. As much as these terms are confusing to people, adding to this disconcertment is misunderstanding the use of ‘Local transmission’ to denote Stage 2 and ‘Community transmission’ for Stage 3.

The basic difference between Local Transmission (Stage 2), and Community Transmission (Stage 3) is the known against the unknown sets of transmissions. Knowing where country, let alone a state stands in the stages, is a crucial factor to layout a response strategy. Now, in a Stage 2 transmission, incoming travellers transmit the contagion at home, work, or at social gatherings, so the chain can be traced through the physical contact history, which in Sikkim’s case is possible and is being done, currently with respect to a preventive measure.  In Stage-3 the cases of infection come from a source where the authorities are unable to trace the connection between the infected or their travel and physical contact history.

Though Sikkim is a step ahead with the prevention strategy, heeding the fact phrase “prevention is better than cure”, the lockdown in Sikkim still has supposed loopholes according to Samaritans considering the lockdown and most have been seen to ask for a complete lockdown as opposed to a restricted lockdown.  Now, according to different sources and health-care units, tackling and containing the virus isn’t at all limited to total lockdowns. If the authorities with public vigilance can find and break all known chains of transmission, then containment must be the goal i.e. to isolate suspects, test, treat infected individuals and trace contacts to suppress the virus transmission, but only if the “infected” come from the unknown set of community transmission, only then mitigation through lockdowns can be applied.

“We need the Government to come up with transparent and evidence-based criteria and guidelines for its own approaches and policy actions, including lockdowns, to enable confidence in its COVID-19 response and enable adherent participation of the public.”- News 18, India

One of the top experts from World Health Organisation said that countries shouldn’t simply lockdown their societies to defeat novel coronavirus, also speaking about the need of public health measures to avoid the virus from resurging later after the lockdown.

“What we really need to focus on is finding those who are sick, those who have the virus, and isolate them, find their contacts and isolate them,” Mike Ryan said in an interview on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

“The danger right now with the lockdowns … if we don’t put in place the strong public health measures now when those movement restrictions and lockdowns are lifted, the danger is the disease will jump back up.”

Suppressing the virus, and knowing where it comes from was the top priority as Ryan informed on the show. He also informed that Europe, according to the WHO has replaced Asia as the epicentre of the global pandemic; adding that the examples of China, South Korea and Singapore have provided a model for Europe by using restrictions and meticulous testing of every conceivable suspect.

“Once we’ve suppressed the transmission, we have to go after the virus. We have to take the fight to the virus; we have to make sure that it’s absolutely safe… we are talking at least a year. The vaccines will come, but we need to get out and do what we need to do now,” said Ryan.

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