On Wednesday, the Uttar Pradesh government announced a complete sealing of 15 Covid-19 hotspots in the state to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. The government said the restrictions in the 15 places, spread across 15 districts, would come into force at midnight on Thursday. Residents will not be allowed to step out, although the delivery of essential items will be allowed.
While there may be a sound rationale for the decision, the manner in which the Uttar Pradesh government announced the move led to panic. It was reminiscent of the evening of March 24 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s television announcement of a nationwide lockdown four hours later failed to mention how Indians would be able to access essential items, leading to people flooding into markets to buy whatever they could.
After Uttar Pradesh officials on Wednesday announced the sealing of 15 hotspots, it was hours before the list of the specific sites was put out, media reports. This resulted in panic.
This incident was yet another instance of botched-up communication about measures to contain Covid-19, defeating the social distancing efforts to contain the spread of the virus.
For days after the nationwide lockdown announcement, the country saw a mass exodus of labourers trying to get back to their villages from the cities in which they were working, fearing that they would not be able to buy food since the daily wage jobs on which they depended had dried up. The March 24 lockdown was imposed without a clear indication of what welfare measures would be implemented to allow the working class to stay securely in cities. Due to the shutdown of transport, many labourers walked hundreds of kilometers. It took several days for state governments to set up a network of camps to house them.
Given this experience and the panic buying India witnessed on March 24, one would assume that Uttar Pradesh would have learnt some lessons.
With the nationwide lockdown coming to an end on April 14, there are already reports of state governments seeking to extend the restrictions. To avoid confusion, the government should ensure that communication about extensions and related information is made well ahead of April 14.