Staggered reopening

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By Srinivasan K. Rangachary

The Prime Minister on Thursday hinted at a common exit strategy from the current 21-daylong lockdown. In a video conference with the chief ministers, he asked them to draw up a common plan for a staggered reopening of the nation. What he said might provide inkling into the official approach at the end of the nation-wide shutdown. Inviting suggestions from the States, Modi said, “It is important to formulate a common exit strategy to ensure staggered re-emergence of the population once the lockdown ends.” Quite clearly, on the current available data about the spread of the pandemic, its containment and the steps underway to ensure tracing and testing of people, Modi is persuaded that there may be no need to prolong the country-wide lockdown beyond April 14th when the current 21-day period is scheduled to end.

Earlier, the Union Cabinet Secretary had pointedly nailed speculation that the lockdown might last far longer than the currently stipulated timeframe.  The PM categorically told the CMs that there could be no going back to ‘business as usual’ after the lockdown. Of course, nobody expects that things will be back to where they were before the eruption of the pandemic. Both the authorities and the people in general would have to remain watchful about the re-emergence of the virus once the lockdown is lifted. Citizen behaviour in public and private might have to henceforth reckon with the utmost importance of personal hygiene. Several countries hit by the virus before it attacked India have experienced a second wave of infections, forcing them to reinforce stringent steps such as quarantine and social isolation taken in the first phase. India would like to avoid those pitfalls and, therefore, maintain a strict drill to ensure that it does not spread in the post-lockdown phase. The lockdown itself may have helped India contain the virus to a very large extent. Despite the sharp spurt in cases from a couple of hotspots, specially the capital’s Nizamuddin Aulia Basti due to a Tablighi Jamaat conference there, India thus far has done well in keeping the numbers of those infected, quarantined and total fatalities relatively low for its large population-size. Another hint of the post-lockdown scenario available from Thursday’s videoconference was the PM’s reference to the hotspots, implying that these could stay locked down while the rest of the country returned to work.

Meanwhile, some CMs complained that there was no response to their demand for increased allocation of funds to fight the pandemic. Maybe the Centre would respond soon after taking into account the overall state of finances, though it must be admitted that the war against the pandemic has stretched the resources of all governments. In another development today, the Congress Working Committee criticised the government for what it called its ill-planned enforcement of the lockdown which caused untold hardships to the tens of thousands of migrant workers. Visual evidence supports the party’s charge, though what it ignores is that it was for the respective State governments to ensure that during the lockdown there was no breach of the implied restrictions on movement of people and vehicular traffic. Unfortunately, some misguided governments, namely, the Arvind Kejriwal Delhi Government, arranged special buses to ferry migrants from Delhi to the UP and Haryana borders. This may not have been a willful breach of the lockdown, but most likely stemmed from a misunderstanding of the lockdown conditions. It may be instructive to heed to the comments of the Special COVID-19 envoy to the WHO on the lockdown.

Speaking to a television channel on Thursday, Dr David Nabarro praised India’s handling of the threat, saying it had led by example. “This is a disease in which the sooner we respond, the more we will be able to contain the spread,” he said. He was impressed with the effective manner in which India undertook a public awareness campaign about the virus and then took urgent steps to contain it. Other countries, especially Italy and the US, dragged their feet in enforcing social distancing and lockdowns and were now regretting their initial indecisiveness. The point is that everyone gets wiser after a crisis, but the test of a true leader lies in taking tough decisions in the face of a great crisis. Trump for days kept on dismissing the pandemic as a Democratic conspiracy to disrupt the economy, and boasted that America was safe from the ‘Chinese virus.’ In the UK, Trump’s soul-mate, Prime Minister Boris Johnson pooh-poohed the threat of the virus, ruling out a lockdown, arguing that ‘herd immunity’ would kill the virus. Since then, London has become the epicenter of the pandemic and Johnson himself has tested positive and gone into self-isolation. These are grim times the world, including India, is passing through. It will be sensible to suspend partisan point-scoring till we have collectively as a nation overcome the threat of the invisible monster. INAV

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