Futility of lockdowns : The Tribune India

Futility of lockdowns

China’s zero-Covid fiasco a lesson for other nations

Futility of lockdowns

Photo for representational purpose only. Reuters file photo

China’s decision to ease travel restrictions and reopen borders amid a massive surge in coronavirus infections is a better-late-than-never admission that its zero-Covid policy has been disastrously counterproductive. China imposed stringent lockdowns over the past three years, riding roughshod over public opinion and global trends. These curbs crippled the world’s second-largest economy, while lockdown fatigue pushed Chinese citizens to the brink. Last month’s fire mishap at Urumqi in Xinjiang, which left 10 persons dead after they failed to escape from an apartment building due to Covid-induced restrictions, acted as a trigger to unleash the anger of the masses. As the anti-lockdown protests spread across China, the government was forced to review and eventually dump its zero-Covid policy.

China relied too long on mathematical models which showed that keeping tighter measures in place for longer periods could flatten the Covid curve. Worst-hit countries such as India and the US imposed lockdowns in 2020, but they bitterly realised the futility of such desperate measures which brought economic activity to a standstill. Indian economy contracted by a whopping 24 per cent in the April-June 2020 quarter; crores of workers became jobless, especially in the informal sector. The nationwide shutdown’s after-effects are still being felt, even as Indian economy is recovering reasonably well from the twin blows of the pandemic and the Ukraine war. When the second wave ravaged the country in April-May last year, Central and state governments generally resisted the urge to impose lockdowns, a move that ensured that the wheels of economy did not stop moving.

The Chinese experience holds a lesson for other countries: the virus is here to stay and cannot be wiped out, at least not in the near future. Protecting lives should go hand in hand with saving livelihoods. With experts ruling out a Covid wave in India after the BF.7 Omicron outbreak in China, the authorities have every reason to avoid kneejerk reactions. Covid-appropriate behaviour and the vaccinate-test-trace-treat drill continue to be the best safeguards against Covid. Widespread hybrid immunity should give the world’s fastest-growing major economy ample confidence to rev up the manufacturing sector and spur job generation.

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