The government decision to keep inter-district bus, train and launch services suspended till May 16 is prudent enough. By the time the Eid-ul-Fitr festival will be over and the lockdown will still remain extended till that date. For any government this is a painful decision but it had hardly any other choice. It will be an altogether different festival for the majority of the people. The great human exodus from cities and towns, particularly the capital and its surrounding industrial belts, is unlikely to happen this time. The government has been mindful enough not to grant any extra vacation along with the regular three-day Eid holiday. Here the message is clear enough. In order to avoid the Eid rush the government has taken these complementary measures.
Clearly, the authorities have paid heed to the expert opinion that the gains achieved in term of arresting the spread of coronavirus infection courtesy of even a relaxed lockdown, must not be spoiled. Sure enough, suspension of operation of public transports has helped the cause. One thing is clear that the pandemic has largely been urban-centric and a few cities including the capital have mostly remained the hotspots. If these hotspots can be cut off from the rest of the country and put under strict lockdown following other preventive measures such as mandatory quarantine for arrivals from abroad, isolation of patients and meticulous contact tracing, infections are sure to radically drop. The rush for Eid shopping to the shopping malls in defiance of health protocols does not bode well for the hotspots in particular. Health experts are yet to know of any presence of the highly mutant Indian variant of the virus although they have come to the conclusion that 60 per cent of the UK strain and 30 per cent of the South African type are responsible for the surge during the second wave.
If the government decision on inter-district bus, launch and train services are laudatory, the go-ahead to operation of public buses within cities and towns may prove counterproductive. Public buses hardly maintain - or can do so even if they try - health protocols for practical reasons. Tailbacks of private vehicles, cars in particular, are a regular feature even during this lockdown. If public buses are pressed into service, traffic jams will get longer and thicker. Desperate passengers take advantage of this to get on board the buses. Both transport operators and passengers are lax on following health protocols. Such physical proximity without proper use of masks, sanitiser and disinfectant is potentially a super spreader.
Against this background, the benefits of the lockdown and allowance of public bus operation within cities and districts should be brought under the scanner. If such buses can operate up to the terminal point of districts, chances are that people will make break journeys in order to bypass the inter-district restrictions. Currently, they take cumbersome and risky journeys on pickups, trucks and even covered vans. This is exactly where public awareness matters. If there is a grave emergency, people with little means cannot help taking such a journey. In that case, let there be a helpline like the 999 to help them with special transports. The illegal movement of transports with passengers on highways should be stopped by all means.