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Sandeep Sahu

This is the best that the Odisha government could have come up with. As this columnist had said three days ago, a prolonged lockdown had become inevitable given the rapidly rising Covid graph in the state over the last few weeks. And sure enough, the Odisha government on Sunday announced a 14-day-long lockdown in the whole state beginning Wednesday. The government certainly deserves compliments for making the announcement two days in advance, leaving the people with enough time to plan for the long lockdown and thus ensuring there is no rerun of the kind of mad rush that followed the announcement of the first nationwide lockdown last year.

There are those who think the announcement came at least a week too late. But the reluctance of the government to impose another spell of lockdown on the people, still trying to recover from the horrors of last year’s long lockdown, is perfectly understandable. It kept trying to postpone a lockdown till the huge leap in positive cases over the last week or so left it with little choice but to go for one, only as a ‘last resort’ – as Prime Minister Narendra Modi had urged Chief Ministers to do in his last tete-a-tete with them through video conferencing.

In drawing up the list of ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’, the state government has tried its best to combine the best of both the worlds; leaving just about enough room to ensure supply of all essential items and services to the people – for limited hours, for obvious reasons – while shutting the doors for all kinds of non-essential activities. Any activity that would engender crowding or large gathering of people has been understandably put in the in the ‘don’ts’ list. Life will not come to a halt this time, as it did last year after the first lockdown. But at the same time, it would not be business as usual, which would be a surefire recipe for disaster.

Notwithstanding the fact that the people have been given two days’ advance notice about the impending lockdown – and the assurances of the traders’ organization that there are enough supplies of essential items – the possibility of panic buying by the people cannot be ruled out. Recently, there were a spate of reports in the media about how essential medicines and other medical supplies flew off the shelves in next to no time after reports of their shortage. Some people even purchased oxygen cylinders, often at a premium, even though neither they – nor any of their family members – were infected by the deadly virus! In this backdrop, it is entirely possible that there would be a tendency among some people to stock up even non-essential stuff, especially in view of the widely held apprehension that the 14-day lockdown could be extended further – as has happened in Delhi and some other places. The government and the traders’ body must do all they can to assure the people that there would be no disruption in supplies and appeal to them repeatedly not to indulge in panic buying.

The people, however, need to do much more than just avoid panic buying if they want to ensure that there is no extension of the 14-day lockdown. As the Corona graph started going through the roof in the last week of March, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, top government officials and health experts repeatedly pleaded with the people to stay put at home unless it was absolutely unavoidable and display ‘Covid appropriate behaviour’ at all times, if they are forced to go out for some reason. This, the public was repeatedly told, was the only way to stave off a lockdown which, it goes without saying, no one wants. But the people did not pay heed to the entreaties and forced a lockdown on themselves. They refused to stay home and went out often without enough reasons. While going out, they either refused to wear masks altogether or, when they did, left it dangling from their chins, making a mockery of the whole thing. Even after constant harping by all concerned for well over a year, they are yet to realise the importance of ‘social distancing’. The same also goes for personal hygiene and hand sanitation.

This, I dare say, is the last chance for the people to mend their ways, if they want to make sure the first lockdown of the year is also the last.

(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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