Covid-19 lockdown has some unintended gains: Fall in crime rate, fatalities on roads, suicides
Coronavirus (Covid-19): It's been 37 days since the Centre put in place a stringent national lockdown as part of efforts to stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. As of Thursday, over 33,000 people have been hospitalised with the infection, accounting for just over 1000 deaths. The pandemic has affected all ways of life, forcing the biggest lockdown in history with billions of people advised to stay indoors. But an unintended consequence of the lockdown has been a fall in the number of deaths reported across India as a result of fewer crimes and a huge reduction in road fatalities. While country-wide data is not available, accounts of police officers and hospital emergency workers in certain states indicate the trend.
In Kerala, a top police officer confirmed that there has been a significant fall in the number of murders, suicides, unnatural deaths and road accidents in the state between March 25 and April 14, the period of the first phase of lockdown, as opposed to the same period last year.
"We saw a 40% fall in murder cases in the period between March 25 and April 14 this year as opposed to the same period last year. Similarly, there has been a 70% fall in rape cases and a 100% fall in cases of violence against women and children. Naturally, since there are fewer vehicles on the road right now, accidents have come down too," said Karunakaran, deputy superintendent at the state crime records bureau in Thiruvananthapuram.
According to the police, there were eight murders in the state in the period this year as opposed to 13 last year. The number of missing cases in the same period this year is 132 compared to 851 last year. Suicides have come down from 445 in 2019 to 192 this year. Unnatural deaths in the same 21-day period last year was 1052, compared to 630 this year.
Kerala, which accounts for large share of road accidents due to high density of population and overcrowding of roads, is also seeing a drop in the number of accidents and casualties due to the lockdown. According to the police data, only 105 accidents were reported in the 21 day period of the lockdown as opposed to 1787 incidents in 2019. A total of 13 people have lost their lives this year, compared to 185 persons last year.
"In all aspects, crime cases in Kerala have comparatively fallen during the lockdown period. I think, family bonds may have grown tighter during this period which may be why we are seeing a dip in cases of suicide. The government is also trying to alleviate the stress through its mental health helplines," the officer said.
At the MAJ Hospital, an important private healthcare institution in Kochi, the dip in road accidents is reflecting in its daily admission in the casualty section. Trauma cases have significantly reduced as well. Even though it's not a Covid-designated hospital, the number of people seeking treatment on a daily basis for various ailments and illnesses have come down as well, said an official. "Earlier, we used to have children admitted as a result of injuries in domestic accidents. But now, most children are indoors. Fatalities on roads have reduced because less people are on the roads these days," said Pheno, the administrator.
The hospital's outpatient department has seen a fall in the number of those seeking treatment too. Only those with severe illnesses which require a physician's guidance are arriving at the hospital. "We have an infection screening clinic where we check those who come with fever, cold and other symptoms. We check their travel history to see if it's Covid-related. If not, we refer them to our doctors," said Pheno.
Hospitals in metro cities like Bengaluru are also reporting a decline in trauma cases. Dr Jagadish Hiremath, managing director of ACE Suhas Hospital in Bengaluru, said, "Since we are located in the Jigani industrial area, we used to receive at least 10 minor industrial accidents in a week. We also used to get those injured in major road accidents. But, since mid-March, there are no admissions with such complaints."
"Our consultants have cut down their time in the hospital to just two hours per day. We are running only emergency and OBG departments." The hospital's casualty department earlier used to see a number of acute gastritis cases due to consumption of liquor. But with liquor shops shut, such cases are not being reported too.
Far away in Tripura, Deep Kumar Debbarma, state nodal officer for Covid-19, told indianexpress.com that the people are adhering to the appeal of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to postpone all non-essential surgeries and medical appointments till the danger of Covid-19 is swept away. Attendance at outpatient (OP) departments of hospitals are thinning too. "At the GB Panth Hospital, where the number of people coming into OP varied between 1200 and 1500 on an average day, only 600-650 are turning up now," he said.
In some states like Assam, police believe the lockdown has resembled a 'curfew-like' situation especially during the night hours, thus deterring criminals from engaging in crimes they normally would. "No one dares to step out (especially at night)," said a senior police officer from Dhubri district in the western part of the state. "Our district had a high crime rate, but post lockdown, this has decreased. Of course, a couple of petty crimes have been reported," he added.
The picture is similar in Nagaon district too. "The crimes involving big groups such as highway robbery, money snatching, drug-related crimes and murders have all come down. Road accidents have reduced by 7%-10% in the district," said SP Abhijit Gurav.
In neighbouring Manipur, K Meghachandra, the police in-charge of Imphal West district, confirmed to indianexpress.com that the police station which covers parts of the state capital has recorded no FIRs of murder, assault or accidents since the lockdown began. This is in contrast to an average of at least two cases that the police station files every day. "The bright side of the lockdown is that the city is much calmer. Crimes is almost zero and the environment is also improving," said K Meghachandra.
Police officials in Telangana are heaving a sigh of relief as they noticed an almost 60 per cent drop in crime rate in the state during the lockdown period. Official data showed 16,942 cases being registered in the state between March 22 and April 22 in 2019. But this year, only 6,923 cases were registered in the same period. Similarly, this year, a total of 159 fatal and 296 non-fatal road accidents were reported in the one-month period. But last year, road accident statistics hovered much higher: 550 fatal and 1,199 non-fatal accidents.
Rachakonda police commissioner Mahesh Bhagwat told indianexpress.com, "Most cases registered these days are related to lockdown violations, manufacture of fake sanitisers or adulteration of food and sale of liquor."
Suicides and casualties on train tracks have taken a hit too. "We record around 40 suicides on railway tracks across Telangana every month. But now that passenger train services are not operational, only six deaths have been recorded on train tracks in April," said an official of the Satya Harishchandra Foundation, which ensures cremation of unidentified bodies.
At the same time, an official in-charge of Hyderabad corporation authority issuing death certificates said people have been finding it difficult to physically approach the office and go through a tedious process when there are severe restrictions on the movement of the public during the lockdown.
Between March 25 and April 27, the authority issued 132 death certificates which were uploaded online. In contrast, January and February saw 3395 and 2138 death certificates being uploaded online. "Once a death is reported in a hospital or house, it will be manually recorded in the ward office and the death certificate is issued after 10 days. The data is entered online only after the kin of the deceased approaches the municipal circle office. During the lockdown, many people would not have been able to go through this tedious process," an official said.
One of the sectors naturally hit the hardest by the palpable fall in the mortality rate is funeral services. In Bengaluru, George Vincent of St Peter's Funeral Undertaker confirmed the problem. "Before the Covid-19 outbreak, we used to manage at least eight funerals on an average per day, which has now reduced to a maximum of three in a day," he said.
To make matters worse, his 45-member staff has dwindled down to 20 as several of them quit their jobs voicing concerns about the safety of their work at a time like this. "Even though we have a set system in place including verification of the police certificate and the death certificate from the hospital to ascertain the cause of death, our workers are worried whether we will be asked to handle any coronavirus-related death without us knowing the truth."
In Guwahati, Jayanta Barua, who manages the city's Navagraha Crematorium, said deaths due to road accidents have understandably come down. "Before, we would get at least 10 accident-related deaths in a month. Now, we hardly have any."
(Inputs and image from theindianexpress.com)