Third lockdown is gradual de-escalation: VK Paul, Niti Aayog member

The nationwide lockdown has effectively contained transmission of Covid-19 in India while giving the country time to prepare for the emerging scenario,
Niti Aayog member VK Paul has said.

Paul, who also heads the medical emergency management plan on Covid, tells ET in an interview that the third phase of the lockdown should be seen as the country’s strategy of rational, gradual and cautious step-wise de-escalation of the lockdown.
Edited excerpts:

India’s lockdown is the strictest in the world. Do you think it has achieved the desired results?

The government took the decision of the national lockdown with two objectives — to effectively contain the transmission of the novel coronavirus and to use this opportunity to prepare the nation and its health system for the emerging scenario. The country has succeeded on both the counts. (It)… has remarkably slowed down the doubling time of infections from five days before the lockdown to 11-12 days. The country has also reached a much higher level of preparedness. A network of 2.3 lakh hospital beds and another 2 lakh isolation care beds has been created over a matter of weeks.

A lockdown can’t last forever. What is the strategy for India?

The third phase of the lockdown should be seen as the country’s strategy of rational, gradual and cautious step-wise de-escalation of the lockdown wherever appropriate. The green zones encompassing 319 districts are being allowed a whole plethora of social and economic activities. There are significant restrictions in red zones and practically total lockdown in the containment zones.

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At the same time, there is an all-out effort to contain the disease and thereby convert red zones into orange, and orange ones into green. The state governments have been given broad guidelines within which they will take decisions and implement the strategy on the ground. We must remember that this is a very delicate situation and we all have to tread carefully.

The country can’t afford to lose the gains of the lockdown earned at a huge cost and slip into a state where unacceptable mortality occurs alongside unacceptable socio-economic cost.

What do you suggest — lockdown or more testing?

Testing is a part of a comprehensive strategy to address the pandemic. We have escalated testing as well as put in place the lockdown; one is not to the exclusion of the other. Today, we have a capacity of more than 75,000 tests per day and have tested over a million individuals, and this is among the highest in the world. Our testing criteria have been calibrated to the changing contours of the outbreak. Testing strategy will change as the need arises.

Will antibody testing be the key to opening economic activities in India?

Antibody test provides a scientific tool for surveillance and for disease control action. Unfortunately, antibody tests have uneven predictability. We have plans to use antibody testing in a systematic way in surveillance, epidemiological research as well as in containment efforts. However, an ideal antibody test continues to elude us.

How long do you think India can maintain social distancing measures?

We should be ready to adapt to the ‘new normal’ for several months at least. Social distancing behaviour has to become a way of life.

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What, according to you, is the way forward?

As restrictions are relaxed, we as citizens should make it difficult for the virus to move from one person to the other. This means physical distancing; wearing a mask; and this means early care-seeking in case of symptoms of cough, fever or respiratory difficulty. Immediate reporting to a health care provider is critical for early treatment to protect you, your family and community. Post lockdown de-escalation, it is our collective will, that will determine how we keep the outbreak in check and simultaneously move on with life.



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