New Delhi: Over 800 scientists, academics and public health professionals have released a statement urging the government to prepare a post-lockdown plan, expand testing for cases of COVID-19 and ensure food security and welfare measures for workers.
The statement pointed out that while the lockdown allowed those who had the means to survive for 21 days to stay indoors and protect their health, it left a vast majority of the workforce employed in the unorganised sector vulnerable to “immediate health risk and economic catastrophe”.
Drawing attention to epidemiological aspects of the lockdown, the signatories said that the lockdown by itself was not a cure to combat the novel coronavirus but rather “a stratagem for winning some time for the healthcare system”. Once the lockdown was lifted, epidemiological models suggested, that the epidemic would make a resurgence in a society already hit by severe economic distress, thereby leading to potentially devastating consequences.
Hence, members of the scientific community argued, to ensure that the rate of new infections was kept low in a sustainable manner, a detailed roadmap of a post-lockdown plan should be formulated and put in place.
Additionally, the signatories expressed concern that the government was not expanding testing facilities to actively identify as many cases of COVID-19 as possible. Under the current restricted testing policy, a large number of mildly symptomatic or asymptomatic cases, which constitute a majority of infections, were likely to remain undetected even after the lockdown ended. “These cases could easily serve as the nucleus for the epidemic to bounce back,” the statement said.
The scientists, academics and public health professionals urged the government and the ICMR to, in accordance with the World Health Organisation’s recommendations, commence large scale testing followed by additional targeted measures to control the epidemic.
Referring to the reverse migration of workers after the imposition of the lockdown, the signatories cautioned that the exodus risked carrying the virus to all regions within the country where healthcare facilities were the weakest. Warning that this exodus could “precipitate both an epidemiological and a humanitarian crisis”, the statement urged the government to institute cash transfers and ensure food security for everyone so that workers were not compelled to undertake long and unsafe journeys.
The entire text of the statement has been reproduced below, together with the list of signatories.