It's reassuring to know that despite a lower Covid-19 positivity rate in recent days, the authorities are not lowering their guard yet. That's the message we are being given as the government plans to isolate big cities with higher transmission rates from the rest of the country as an attempt to disrupt the spread of the coronavirus. That means, no public transport including buses will be allowed to enter or leave these cities. However, they will be allowed to operate within the city perimeters. As part of that plan, the cabinet secretary on Monday made two important announcements: the ongoing nationwide restrictions have been extended until May 16—that is, until after the Eid holiday—and intra-district public transport has been allowed to run starting May 6. But train and inland water transport will remain suspended as before.
The question, however, is whether these directives will be enough to stop the flow of homebound travellers during the Eid holiday. Eid holidays are typically times when the largest exodus of people takes place, and the trend hasn't stopped even during the pandemic. People have been found to resort to ingenious methods to bypass movement restrictions and they may well do so this time, too, unless the government adopts equally ingenious methods to prevent them. Failure to do so can be costly, as we already know from previous occasions, as the virus spread far and wide along with them. Another persistent thorn in the side of the authorities has been people's reluctance to follow health guidelines. The recent increase in people's movement following a slackening of the "lockdown" and large gatherings seen at markets and shopping malls, which were reopened on April 25, may eat away all the gains of the planned district-wise lockdown.
While the idea of boxing the virus in may seem like a right decision, enforcing the lockdown will be the challenge. It will not contain the virus unless the authorities adopt and strictly enforce supporting measures, such as a zero-tolerance policy for violations of all guidelines, penalising violations, largescale testing and tracing, sufficient aid interventions for the poor and informal workers so they can stay indoors, etc. Also, with so little testing in the country (only 14,158 samples were tested on May 2), there is always the risk that both the public and policymakers will be misguided by incorrect data leading to unwise choices and decisions. This must be addressed. Let's admit it: what we have now is nowhere near a lockdown, but we can forgo a lockdown if the government can just ensure judicious planning and effective enforcement in whatever guise it chooses to do so.