A full year has passed since the first complete lockdown was imposed in Mumbai and many parts of Maharashtra. That was a necessary step. Without appropriate government intervention, both Maharashtra and India would have fared far worse under the debilitating impact of the pandemic. In the initial stages of the pandemic, rural India was relatively insulated from both Covid and the lockdowns. However, that changed once migrant labour started going back to their villages in search of livelihood, which had been severely impacted in urban areas. By any metric, Indian policymakers have handled the situation deftly … the total number of Covid-related deaths in many countries having Coronavirus infections far less than us is far more than us.
India’s much-maligned healthcare system rose to the occasion and ramped up production of masks, sanitizers, ventilators etc. Of course, this does not change the fact that our healthcare infrastructure (both hardware and software) needs dramatic improvements. The lockdowns have had huge socioeconomic consequences, and they provide invaluable lessons for building a more inclusive and sustainable healthcare system in India.
Local government and citizen initiatives made a greater difference than one would have expected. With Covid expected to recur in waves (and a new wave probably already upon us) these initiatives should be institutionalized, so as to give them the legal backing required for their success. The lockdowns shifted the transmission curve to the right, and bought policymakers time to ramp up supply-side infrastructure. In both urban and rural areas, systematically imposed lockdowns were the key to minimizing the spread of Covid.
The lockdowns also provided India the much-needed research space required for the mass-production of vaccines. India has now become almost a world leader in vaccine diplomacy. This is not to promote any kind of complacency or say that everything went off well in combating Covid. However, our underestimated, often maligned, and under-governed country has surprised many external observers in this challenging situation. Well imposed lockdowns are an important factor in ensuring that at the eleventh hour everything is managed to the extent possible.
While almost all Indian states and Union Territories have their own disaster management plans (in addition to the national one), most of them leave much to be desired. A simple (but well executed) lockdown produced better results than the vast majority of the existing disaster management plans in combating the pandemic. All current disaster management plans need strengthening, as, in the unfortunate case of another such event, India remains a soft target.
An unintended benefit of the lockdowns was that theypromoted rapid technology adoption throughout the economy. As the lockdowns necessitated work from homefor many white-collar employees, digitization proceeded frenetically. Several new and innovative services were offered by banks and financial institutions to their clients. These changes were necessary, and they probably would not have occurred in normal circumstances. No one wants lockdowns to continue indefinitely. However, they did provide us some unique learning experiences.