Lockdown: The word doing the rounds amid Covid-19 curbsUpdated: Mar 24, 2020 19:09 IST
‘Lockdown’ paints a picture of a security threat, of confining yourself from a deadly enemy or keeping the enemy confined. Rightly so. In this case, the enemy is invisible, and is stealthily infecting people and waging a war inside them.
The word ‘Lock’ is derived from the Old English ‘loc’, meaning fastening; ‘down’ comes from the Middle English word, ‘doun’, according to the Macmillan Dictionary blog. It usually implies a confinement measure to protect from harm. By Tuesday afternoon, all of India was pretty much under lockdown, including 32 states and union territories. This means three out of four Indians are restricted to their homes. While the lockdown began on Sunday as a “Janata curfew” (people’s curfew), a voluntary move of citizens to practice social distancing on the request of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, now the lockdown is being enforced with police forces keeping a check on people’s movements in every neighbourhood and only essential services like groceries and pharmacies serving people.
What will such a lockdown achieve and why is it so important to adhere to it? According to the World Health Organisation’s latest count, 334,981 people in 190 countries globally are infected with SARS-CoV-2 virus, which has killed at least 14,652 as on Tuesday. The virus spreads from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth which are released when a person with Covid-19 coughs or exhales, even those who are asymptomatic. These droplets land on objects and surfaces around the person. Other people then catch Covid-19 by touching these objects or surfaces. The virus usually causes symptoms like fever, tiredness and dry cough but can be deadly for the elderly or those with co-morbidities like blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes etc.
The disruption because of the lockdown can cause much anxiety and inconvenience. But Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) conducted a mathematical modelling which concluded social distancing measures such as home quarantine of symptomatic people, and suspected cases will reduce the overall expected number of cases by 62% and the peak number of cases by 89%, thus “flattening” the curve and providing more opportunities for interventions.
China enforced similar lockdowns but with far more stringency in various parts of the country in phases for over two months. Along with massive lockdowns, electronic surveillance was used in China to track people’s movements. A recent study by the Imperial College London’s Covid-19 team found that population-wide social distancing applied to the population as a whole would have the largest impact in transmission reduction. Along with that, other interventions like home isolation of infected people and school and university closure are needed.
China’s model has been replicated in Italy, in the US’ New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Spain and other European countries where the authorities have ordered people to stay at home, threatening them with fines in some cases.
“A minimum of two weeks of curfew is needed to have an effect on transmission chains. Because what didn’t happen today will happen tomorrow. People will go shopping, will meet each other etc. We need to have a strategy to pay people the losses faced due to a lockdown. The UK government has budgeted billions of pounds to pay people while they are at home,” said Dr T Jacob John, former head of the Indian Council for Medical Research’s Centre for Advanced Research in Virology.
Similar lockdowns or curfews haven’t been implemented before to deal with a pandemic of this scale and hence are historic. SARS didn’t need a lockdown because the infection was only in the lungs and it was infectious only after a person developed fever.