Prime Minister Narendra Modi extended the countrywide lockdown for 19 additional days till May 3 to contain the spread of the pandemic
As India completes a month under lockdown that brought the world's most populous democracy to a virtual standstill, with no or very minimal social and economic activities to prevent the spread of COVID-19 pandemic, several medical experts feel that these restrictions were crucial in preventing a "US or Europe-like" situation from materialising in the country.
However, most of the experts also cautioned that a "bigger challenge" awaits the country when it gradually move towards exiting the nationwide lockdown, which has emerged as one of India's biggest weapons so far in the battle against COVID-19.
India's first case was reported on January 30, and 54 days later on March 25, with 519 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 11 deaths, the country was put under a 21-day complete lockdown, hence starting the country's full-blown battle against the pandemic.
At the end of the lockdown, the total number of coronavirus cases has crossed the 23,000 mark and there are 718 deaths due to COVID-19 in the country. Globally, the total number of cases of infections are over 27.3 lakh and more than1.91 lakh people have died due to the virus with the US and the UK along with some other European countries among the worst affected nations.
After a three week period that ended on April 14, Prime Minister Narendra Modi extended the countrywide lockdown for 19 additional days till May 3 to contain the spread of the pandemic.
Though, the number of infections kept on rising through the period of the lockdown, experts believe it is not "alarming" and the situation seems to be under control in India as compared to the US and several other western nations where cases have skyrocketed and the death toll is mounting.
After a week into the lockdown, the tally of cases reached 1,397 and 35 deaths on March 31, a jump of 878 cases and 24 deaths, while at the end of two weeks of the lockdown on April 7, the cases had risen to 4,789 with 124 deaths, witnessing a spike of 3,392 cases and 89 deaths.
On the last day of the 21-day first phase lockdown, the death toll due to the coronavirus stood at 353 with the number of cases soaring to 10,815.The third week of the lockdown saw a jump of 6,026 cases and 229 deaths.
The next 10 days saw a spike of 365 deaths and 12,262 cases. As per the Union health ministry Friday update, the death toll due to COVID-19 is 718 and the number of cases 23,077. Though only a detailed study would be able to throw light on the success of the lockdown, medical experts feel it was necessary and India's situation would have been even more precarious in its absence.
Dr Arvind Kumar, a noted lung surgeon at the Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, said the month-long lockdown has been "immensely beneficial" for India and prevented a "US or Europe-like" situation from materialising in the country.
"More importantly, it has given us a golden 30 days time to prepare our health services and other support services to face the onslaught (of the virus) even if it was to come in the ensuing days," he told PTI.
Kumar also said that as a healthcare worker he would like to see a decision on extension of the lockdown around April 30 or May 1 after assessing the situation at the time.
"Lifting of lockdown should be very gradual. Some facilities should remain closed through the month of May like schools, colleges, malls, cinema halls, religious places and markets. Certain sectors feeling the pinch should open but only in green zones, while red and orange zones should continue in lockdown," he said.
Ravi Shekhar Jha, Senior Consultant and Head of the Department, Pulmonology, Fortis Escorts Faridabad, also hailed the government's decision to impose the lockdown in containing the virus, saying it was "timely".
He, however, asserted that the lifting of lockdown will be "the real challenge", and advocated its phased lifting after identification of hotspots and allowing only essential services there.
The exit from the lockdown has to be based on a very analytical approach, giving priority to scientific rather than economic considerations, he told PTI.
Dr Rommel Tickoo, Associate Director, Internal Medicine, Max healthcare, said the lockdown has been quite beneficial for India when compared to the situation in the US and Europe.
"Ours was quite timely. We have over 20,000 cases, so if you compare it with the US and Europe, definitely we are in a much better condition. Mortality rate is also lower in India at round 3 per cent," he told PTI.
Asked if a bigger challenge awaits India in lifting the lockdown, Tickoo said restrictions should be lifted in a phased manner.
He also suggested that India can take a leaf out of countries like Sweden and put restrictions on elderly and those with comorbid conditions for 2-3 months as they seem to be more vulnerable to the virus.
The lockdown period has not just been about numbers but also about the dogged resolve of a nation to overcome a crisis, about sacrifices and the fearless service of COVID-19 warriors such as healthcare workers, police personnel and sanitation workers.
The period of 31 days of lockdown has also had its share of hiccups with social distancing guidelines going for a toss on certain occasions -- from thousands of migrant workers thronging Anand Vihar bus terminus on the Delhi-UP border in the earlier stages of the shutdown to a crowd of migrant labourers gathering in suburban Bandra earlier this month.
The government has maintained that if not for the lockdown and other containment measures such as contact tracing and isolation, the numbers of coronavirus cases would have been sky-high.
The health ministry has also maintained that the rate of rise in confirmed cases would have been much lower, but for the Tablighi Jamaat event at Delhi's Nizamuddin last month.
While on the one hand, heart-wrenching stories of migrant laborers walking hundreds of miles to reach home emerged, at the other, inspiring incidents of healthcare workers fearlessly fighting the pandemic came to the fore during the one month of lockdown.
But, one dominant theme that seemed to dwarf everything else, is a determination of a nation to fight the seemingly long battle against COVID-19 to emerge victorious.