An Alternative Strategy to Nationwide Lockdown

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Economy Politics

We are now on 32nd day of nation-wide lockdown. Initially the government announced it for a period of a week but it has only been extending. As a corollary to the lockdown, we have now started to face an economic downturn. Daily wage workers are facing the major brunt. With lockdown extending, it has only been difficult for them to feed them and their family members. To quote them, “It is unsure if we will be dying of the disease, but if the lockdown extends, we will surely be dying due to starvation.” Their statement gives us a sense of understanding of what difficulty they are going through

People have also started to question the rationality behind the lockdown and the date till when the lock down will last. In an ideal case, locking down for a month or a two would be justified if the government could possibly test all of the people inside the country. But we cannot expect the government of an underdeveloped country like ours with severe resource constraint to do so within such limited span of time which even most advanced countries have not been able to. Hence, it has now become a common knowledge that nationwide lockdown is not an optimal solution. It surely does contain the contagion and we are strangling our economy and its most vulnerable group while doing so. On the other hand, completely re-opening the economy is also sub-optimal because we run a risk of spreading the virus which again could be disastrous. We need to devise a way out somewhere in between.

We can divide the country into several geographical areas/clusters; let’s call them optimal lockdown area for now for the sake of simplicity. Optimal lockdown area is determined on the basis of daily economic activities which are undertaken within an area. For example, Kathmandu Valley could be on optimal area as flow of people and daily economic activities undertaken within this area is relatively larger compared to that between the valley and other parts of the country. Also, most inhabitants of this area do not travel outside of the area to conduct daily economic activities. After segregating the country in such a way, the government could enforce complete lock down in these few areas, may be three to five at a time for a certain period of, say, a week meanwhile other areas remain open. However, the dwellers of areas which remain open cannot travel to other areas. In other words, intra-area movement is permitted while inter-area movement is not.  

The government can then focus on testing people in the areas which are completely locked down. After testing is sufficiently done, we can reopen these areas and impose lockdown in previously open and untested areas. This way, the government could tame the spread of virus and also significantly limit the economic slowdown. With a more pragmatic strategy like the one explained here, it does not have to be tradeoff between economic health and public health. We can attain both.