Lockdowns are back. On Tuesday, Bihar announced that the entire state would be locking down for 15 days starting from Thursday. This comes after a spate of localised lockdowns as cities, towns and districts across India have been putting in containment measures to stop the number of Covid-19 cases from rising.

From June 28, Guwahati went into total lockdown, with even grocery stores staying closed. Kerala’s capital Thiruvananthapuram was locked down from July 6. Patna locked down from June 10 while Maharashtra’s Pune started three days later. Bengaluru took a similar decision effective from July 14.

Kolkata, meanwhile, declared a strict but partial lockdown which would apply only to containment zones. The state of Uttar Pradesh shut down over the weekend – from Friday 10 pm to Monday 5 am.

According to Mint, around a third of the Indian population is now affected by these local lockdowns.

This comes even as India’s country-wide lockdown began to be lifted from June 1 after more than two months of what has often been described as the world’s harshest coronavirus containment restrictions.

The move towards local lockdowns has been recommended by experts. A total nationwide lockdown was crushing for India’s economy. Moreover, given India’s continental population, local lockdowns will be able to better respond to specific conditions.

No communication

However, even as the move towards local lockdowns is a good move, what India’s states are missing is clear, cogent communication around the reasons for a lockdown as well as what the restrictions aim to achieve.

Till now, it is unclear why state governments suddenly decide to put a place under lockdown. In the case of Bihar, for example, the only reason the lockdown order gave was “an alarming surge in Covid-19 positive cases”.

However, cases in Bihar have been surging for some time now. It is therefore not known why Bihar decided to lockdown now – or why it thought a 15-day lockdown would be appropriate. The government has also not communicated to Biharis what it intends to do with these 15 days. Will testing be ramped up? Will contact tracing be done more thoroughly? Is the lockdown simply intended to break the chain of transmission? The people of Bihar have been left in the dark about what their government has planned (if it had planned anything at all).

Lockdown fatigue

India has been taking harsh containment measures against the coronavirus for nearly four months now. During this time, most of the government action has been arbitrary – such as the decision to prevent migrant workers from leaving the cities in which they were working.

As time goes on, Indians would be less and less willing to comply with sudden diktats as fatigue sets in. In this case, it is important for state governments to abandon this top-down style of authority and, instead, take their citizens into confidence when announcing a lockdown.

Not only is this what a democracy requires, it would also maximise the chance of a lockdown being successful.