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Saturday, June 06, 2020

Why does Chandigarh need a daily curfew relaxation?

Why cannot Chandigarh have a blanket sit-at-home mandate like entire Punjab, Haryana, Himachal, J&K and Delhi?

Written by Anil Malhotra | Chandigarh | Published: April 6, 2020 9:40:01 am
Why does Chandigarh need a daily curfew relaxation? People wait outside a shop in Sector 22 market, after the curfew was relaxed in Chandigarh on Saturday. (Express Photo by Kamleshwar Singh)

Two interviews in the media catch my attention today. The first is of Dr Randeep Guleria, director of AIIMS and India’s top pulmonologist, heading a team that treats COVID-19 patients all over the country. He says that “despite understanding the importance of the curfew, some groups did not follow it. It is a citizens’ movement and if we have to win the battle against COVID-19, it has to be won at a community level rather than at the hospital level.” Dr Guleria added, “what we are looking at is: containment, containment and containment. We have to be very aggressive in trying to maintain this by containing the spread in a geographical area rather than allowing it to spread. What we are looking at is: can we, in the beginning prevent widespread community transmission at one point in time so that we don’t have a steep rise in the number of cases but we flatten the curve.”

In the second interview, Union Health Minister, Dr Harsh Vardhan also stresses on “flattening the curve”. He adds that a lockdown “is an important intervention, as it delays the peak of the epidemic, slows the growth of the curve and provides health and social systems time to mount a response”. The Union Health Minister is at pains to say that “I would like to convey to your readers through this interview that they must honour the lockdown protocol. Staying at home is the only way of staying safe. We are maintaining stringent adherence to social distancing measures ensuring a tight lockdown, and motivating the communities to own the social distancing strategies.”

On 22 March, in view of Janata Curfew announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, U.T. Chandigarh banned assembly of people at public places to halt the spread of COVID-19. On 23 March, the U.T. notified a lockdown under the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 in Chandigarh in public interest till 31 March. On 24 March, the National Disaster Management Authority chaired by the Prime Minister, exercising powers under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, issued an order directing all State/Union Territory governments to take strict containment measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The order to remain in force all over India for 21 days, i.e. till 14 April, was issued to provide uniformity in measures adopted and implemented for ensuring social distancing. Consequently, guidelines were issued by the Government of India to all States/Union Territories ordering work from home, closure, suspension, shutting down of all establishments, except Medical and essential services, besides resorting to home delivery system and other containment measures.

As a result of the above measures, the entire north India including Chandigarh came under a lockdown and there was no relaxation allowing people to step out of their houses every day. The District Magistrate, SAS Nagar, relaxed the curfew in SAS Nagar for limited hours on 24 March, permitting residents to move out of their homes, but on the same day withdrew the relaxation and decided to work on a system of door-to-door delivery. On 27 March, District Magistrate, Chandigarh, granted a daily relaxation from 10.00 am to 06.00 pm to Chandigarh residents to visit shops or super markets selling food items, essential commodities, medicines etc. This relaxation order was challenged in the Punjab and Haryana High Court in a public interest litigation petition and on 29 March the relaxation order was upheld on the ground that the Chandigarh Administration had weighed all the pros and cons before taking the decision. Another petition filed by the Association of Resident Doctors, PGI, Chandigarh, challenging the relaxation was overnight mysteriously given up and not sought to be pursued for reasons best known to the petitioning doctors. On 29 March, the District Magistrate, Chandigarh, altered the relaxation provided to Chandigarh residents to step out of their houses from 11.00 am to 3.00 pm daily to buy essential items. This order also notes that the home delivery mechanism of essential items has been strengthened, there is no perceptible rush in markets and there is no panic buying. The order notes that danger of COVID-19 is imminent and thus it is imperative to put in place strict measures of isolation and social distancing to contain its spread.

The Chandigarh Administration has assigned the overall responsibility of providing essential services relating to food, grocery items, fruits, vegetables, dairy and milk products etc. to the Municipal Corporation, for which residents can also visit shops from 11.00 am to 3.00 pm daily. The Municipal Corporation of its own has also fixed timings (from 9.00 am to 9.00 pm daily) for home delivery of essential commodities. Eight online companies are delivering groceries at doorsteps. The Chandigarh Administration has provided an updated list of chemist shops for home delivery of medicines and list of grocery shops for supply of essential items. To facilitate the movement, the District Magistrate, Chandigarh has also issued curfew passes to government officials and individuals during the curfew period till 14 April under official and essential services category. So far so good.

Procrastination is the thief of time. As we enter day 12 of the 21-day lockdown, the question is should Chandigarh continue the daily relaxation permitting persons to move out daily for shopping from 11.00 am to 03.00 pm when all items are being delivered at the doorstep? Is stepping out of the home a must? For what and why. What is the logic and reasoning? Does it not run counter to the PM’s plan of containment measures? Does it also not contradict the views of experts quoted above? What will we achieve by allowing residents to step out of the homes every day?

Will people walk on foot to visit distant markets to purchase select food items and groceries? Is it realistic to do so. Why cannot Chandigarh have a blanket sit-at-home mandate like entire Punjab, Haryana, Himachal, J&K and Delhi?Why should Chandigarh be different? A fleet of 200 CTU, U.T. buses and a huge U.T. Police force with Municipal Corporation employees are monitoring and overseeing the operation of an effective doorstep delivery system. Would it not be better to improve and strengthen the home delivery system? Curfew passes are available for emergencies. Why then a daily relaxation. Are we innocuously promoting indirect spread of COVID-19 by encouraging social contact in public places in curfew relaxation hours? Are we not infringing the containment measures? Citizens of Chandigarh must introspect. A team of about 1500 resident doctors besides senior doctors, nursing staff and hospital employees at PGI, Chandigarh, have been given the onerous task of handling a dedicated COVID-19 unit. Will the relaxation in curfew flatten the curve or add to their woes by spiking the rise of the infectious coronavirus. Time will tell.

The author, an Advocate is a resident of Chandigarh since 1967 and can be reached at anilmalhotra1960@gmail.com. Views expressed are personal.

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