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Socio-Spatial Distancing: Alternative to Lockdown

06-Apr-2020Arvind Virmani

Estimates made by Karan Bhasin and I suggest that the current lockdown (till April 15), will cost 2.8% of GDP, over and above what it would be, given the effects of the Pandemic on Contact Sectors, particularly Hospitality, Airlines, Travel & Tourism. If the lockdown is extended to end of April the cost goes up to 5% of GDP and if its extended to end May, the additional cost will be 9% of GDP. This doesn’t include the bankruptcy cost of all the MSME, tiny enterprises, shops & wholesale establishments which will go bankrupt because of inability to (a) lower wages or fire workers, (b) pay rent on premises and get evicted, and (inability to repay loans.

The mean Infection Rate from COVID19/Corona Virus 2 is estimated by author to be 0.2% of population and the mean Death rate is 2.2% of Infected cases, as of March 29th, 2020. The maximum Infection rate in any country in World today is 0.33% of population (0.6mi) in tiny Luxembourg. That is 1/3 of 1%. The next highest rate is 0.26% of population (0.4 mi) in even tinier Iceland. The maximum death rates per infected cases is 11% in Italy where an overwhelming majority were over 60 years of age with other medical conditions. The death rate in Italy for infected people under 50 years is ~2% and this reduces towards 1% if they don’t have another medical problem. Non peer-reviewed research suggests that overall rate in Italy could be lower.[1]

It is therefore essential to explore intermediate possibilities between complete National lock-down and normal activity. One such proposal is outlined below for consideration. It has the following elements:

  1. Nationwide Ban on Assembly of more than 5 people in any Public place, including religious gatherings, should continue till end June. Family of 5 should be allowed on roads, parks & open air public spaces, as long as they are all wearing masks and keep 1-3 m distance from others.

  2. International Travel Ban (till 31/6/20): No international travel allowed by air, sea or road, except for those stranded away from home. Those allowed to travel for compassionate reasons, must be properly tested before being allowed to travel in or out of country.

  3. Severely affected Districts may have to continue with lockdown or quarantines till the infected cases have clearly peaked (with exemption for Essential Goods and services).

  4. Wearing of Masks must be made compulsory for all workers (including household workers) and all individuals outside the home. The there are three Quality of Masks; N95 marks are needed only by doctors & those handling COVID cases. Surgical masks are necessary only for Health workers. Lower quality masks are Ok for the general public. Simple masks can easily be manufactured in rural areas, villages and in the home.

  5. Factories, Mines & Agriculture & Allied production & trade and Non-Contact Services can resume with compulsory Mask wearing. Socio-spatial distancing must be maintained in all workplaces to maximum extent possible. Establishment owners and workers would be liable to fines, if masks are not worn. Services which require Ques must make arrangements for SocioSpatial distancing in such Ques.

  6. Contact Services are defined as those in which service is provided jointly to large numbers of customers (air lines, railways, buses, cinemas) or many customers are served simultaneously in same area (Restaurants, Hotels, Retail markets, Malls). We need to differentiate between different Contact services and apply different restrictions and differential phasing out of same.

  7. Public Transport Is essential for going to work. One seat must be empty between people, testing with thermal sensor before entry (<100.4 deg) of terminal/transport, compulsory wearing of masks. All those over 60 years old can be allowed to travel on compassionate grounds if they don't have any other medical condition, have tested negative on formal test and need to travel to work. Work related travel must be opened first, while Domestic Tourist travel may be restricted for some time and resumed gradually to ensure lower density on Airlines, Trains and Buses and at Tourist spots, to a level at which SocioSpatial distancing is a realistic possibility.

  8. Hotels, Restaurants: All govt restrictions on, and fees for, home delivery from these establishments, must be suspended for the duration of these restrictions. Restaurants with attached gardens or terraces could be allowed to serve customers, with min 3 m distance between tables and strict social distancing among patrons. Internal service could be limited to 1/4th of licensed capacity to enforce 3 m spacing between tables, provided air-conditioned premises use higher quality filters to minimize recirculation of bacteria/virus for duration. Compulsory temp check of both workers & customers before entry into premises (+ other simple checks). Patrons must wear masks when not seated and eating/drinking at table.

  9. Malls & Large Retail Markets, Cinemas, House of Worship, Conference/Seminar Venues etc.: May have to be kept closed for several months and then opened gradually with appropriate safeguards and for younger, healthier folks with no other medical conditions. Small local markets, repair shops and shops selling consumables & non-durables could be allowed to open first.

  10. Urban slums & clusters of one room tenements, need special measures; Even with best of intentions, it's very difficult to maintain clean hands, clean bathrooms and socio-spatial distancing. One possibility is to shift those with rural/village home base, back to these villages for 3 months, after testing & ensuring they have masks.

  11. Infected persons: Mild cases must be home quarantined, modest cases in special facilities (including identified hotels) and serious cases sent to hospital. To ensure irresponsible people do not break Home quarantine they can either be Monitored through (a) a mobile app, with random physical checking to ensure they don't go out, leaving mobile home; or (b) An electronic anklet/ wrist band which sends warning if person moves out of range of locator inside house. If house has older people (>55yrs), infected person must either stay away from them or wear a mask in their vicinity.

  12. Older people above 50/55/60 years of age with other medical conditions, are most vulnerable to Corona Virus infection and mortality. They must be advised to stay at home and insist that anyone coming from outside wear a mask. They must also shun Hotels, Restaurants, Malls, retail markets and Public transport. Whether they should be compulsorily excluded from these places, is a difficult decision.

  13. Anyone caught violating the mask wearing regulations (listed above), should be quarantined at home for 1 week (say); The quarantine period should increase progressively for subsequent violations.

Early announcement of these measures is essential for all concerned to start Planning for these measures immediately (Production & distribution of Masks, thermal scanners, test kits, protective clothing for health workers, ventilators).

During a Lockdown it’s impossible to aid the poor through public works and production related subsidies. Even when Lock down is lifted it is difficult given stringent Socio-spatial distancing requirements. A mobile based Direct Cash transfer (DCT) system is ideal for getting Transfers & Subsidies (DBT) to the vulnerable sections of the population. It is best for rural areas (70% of population) because people are dispersed and distance to Bank Branches and ATMs is large. It is also the best mechanism for migrants from rural to Urban areas. Women with minor children should get transfers separate from their spouses. This requires a mobile loaded with a Payment App, Aadhar & Voter ID numbers and few work/residence & family details. Rural/slum Women who don't have mobiles, should be given free pre-loaded ones.

There are no easy solutions given the uncertainty surrounding the Pandemic, but policy must be based on data-based analysis. All feasible alternatives must be carefully considered, keeping in mind administrative weakness and limitations, variations across States/Districts, Rural/Urban dimensions and Sections of society.


Source: http://dravirmani.blogspot.com/2020/04/socio-spatial-distancing-alternative-to.html

[1]: https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.03.28.20046243v1