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Sandeep Sahu

The weekend shutdown is back; across the state and in a far more stringent avatar this time. One could get practically everything one needed – grocery, vegetables, non-veg items, milk, bread and so on – during the weekend shutdowns imposed last year. But this time round, all shops barring medicine stores and petrol pumps, have had to down their shutters. Vehicular movement has come down to a trickle, with only those carrying essential items being allowed. The crackdown on violation is much stricter than it was last time.

This is as it should be, given the fact that the ongoing ‘second wave’ of the Covid 19 pandemic is not only spreading much faster than it did in the first round, but is also carrying a deadlier version of the virus after multiple mutations that puts even those who have already been vaccinated at risk. There is simply no room for complacency and any laxity would mean a heavy toll in terms of human lives. A complete shutdown would certainly cause immense hardships to people, especially those who eke out a living working as daily wage earners or plying their ware on a daily basis. But this is a price we must pay to keep the virus from overwhelming us. If the cases continue to rise at the same speed they have over the last four weeks or so – or faster – over the next few days, who knows we may have little option but to enforce a prolonged shutdown lasting a week, a fortnight or more – like Delhi has had to do!

But I am afraid the same cannot be said about the night curfew, which came into force much earlier than the weekend shutdown, first in the 10 districts bordering Chhattisgarh, where the pandemic has assumed alarming proportions, and now in the whole state. I have been talking to doctors and health experts over the past few days and none of them could convince me about the wisdom and efficacy of the night curfew. In fact, some of them have openly aired their doubts on TV about the utility of the night curfew. After all, much of the crowding and movement of people, a surefire recipe for faster spread of the disease, takes place during daytime. Hence, any crackdown aimed at arresting the spread has to take place during the day.

A 9 PM to 5 AM curfew, in contrast, does not help much since most shops and commercial establishments are anyway closed while public gatherings and vehicular movement are minimal during those hours. Allowing movement of people and vehicles all day for five days a week and then imposing a 9 pm-5 am curfew on all seven days simply does not make sense. It would be a worthwhile exercise only if it is part of a 72, 120, 144-hour shutdown – and certainly not when it is business as usual during daytime for five days.

One doctor I talked to – who is closely in the battle against Corona – batted for night curfew arguing that much of the inter-state movement of people and vehicles takes place during the night. And since the threat during the second wave comes primarily from Chhattisgarh, a night curfew was necessary and has proved effective, he argued. While there can be no two ways about the need to prevent those carrying the virus in neighbouring states from swarming our state, I am not sure how a night curfew in all urban areas – whether on the border with other states or not – helps achieve this objective. What it needs, in my view, is stricter, round-the-clock monitoring of all movement – of people and vehicles – from high incidence neighbouring states – of the kind that Mayurbhanj and Balasore have seen on the West Bengal border over the last two days.

Any decision taken to fight the pandemic has to have some rationale. And I am afraid the decision on night curfew has none. If there are some tangible benefits accruing from it, we must be told what exactly they are.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)

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