Lockdown a last resort
Governments across states are caught in a bind over whether to announce a lockdown or to resort to containing the virus wherever it has struck. In Meghalaya, the Opposition Congress has rightly expressed its concerns over a second lockdown even as memories of the first one in March last year continue to haunt the poor and destitute daily wage earners and all those engaged in sectors outside of the government. Most businesses have sunk and yet many who run hotels and guest houses have been paying their staff despite the loss of income from the sector. Tourism and its ancillary services are the most badly hit of all the businesses, more so because Meghalaya has a plethora of home-stay facilities created over the last ten years and which have remained unoccupied since March 2020. It was only in November-December 2020 that tourists trickled in. Now with the outbreak of the new mutant strain across the country it is prudent to stop the movement of tourists from outside the state for they could be asymptomatic carriers. But there is also the question of sustaining those home-stay owners and hoteliers who through no fault of theirs have had to suffer a huge income loss and also loss of livelihoods for those employed by such hotels/home-stays. Policy intervention in this sector and funds infusion is imperative.
Interestingly as soon as the District Administration announced a partial lockdown beginning Sunday, people have begun to argue that some of the services listed as non-essentials are actually not so. It is instructive that in the age of digital technology, computer stores and their backroom repair sections would top the list of non-essential services. This, when education is now conducted on the digital mode and important meetings and conferences are being organised online. Clearly there is a need for more discernment before pulling down the shutters of any business. While clothes, shoes, garments, jewelry et al are dispensable at this juncture, there will be no dearth of people who would need to ramp up their computers and mobile phones. Generally computer outlets also store mobile phones and a repair section. The week-long shutdown is likely to play havoc with those who might require the services of computer stores. They include the lakhs of students communicating with their teachers on the computer screen or on mobile phones.
That the second Covid wave is more virulent cannot be overstated and it is incumbent on the Government to contain the infection so that the health delivery system does not collapse as it has done elsewhere. Above all, this is a time for collaboration, not confrontation. Government needs to consult better with responsible members of the public. Participatory decision-making is what drives democracy. Besides, not all wisdom resides within the government system.