Covid 19: India at the crossroads

Even if the lockdown is to be extended, a window, planned, phased, and supervised, may be accorded for the resumption of some economic activities.

 |  5-minute read |   08-04-2020
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As we enter the last week of the nationwide lockdown, luckily for us in India, the question is not "to be or not to be”. Rather it is "to extend or not to extend" the lockdown. As a nation, we are going to survive this pandemic. Weakened and depleted perhaps, but most likely better off than our peers, whether in the developed or developing worlds.

In fact, given the onset of the hot weather, with virus unfriendly temperatures easily reaching 40 degrees centigrade in much of the Indian mainland, we may even hope that disease will be on the retreat even if not fully under control by mid-May.

No complacency

Our current death rate per million from the Wuhan Covid19 virus is one of the lowest of the bigger countries, just 0.1 or 0.00001 per cent. The infection rate is also still comparatively low at a total of less than 5,000 as I write this, which works out to 3 per million or 0.0003 per cent.

Largely an outcome of PM Narendra Modi's proactive lockdown, this low rate both of infection and death could have been much lower had it not been for the Tablighi Jamat "super spreaders”, who account for over 30 per cent of all cases. But India's low numbers should not make us complacent or contented. Everything can change in the coming week or 10 days. It all depends on how many asymptomatic carriers have been silently shedding the virus unbeknownst to us. That is what the community stage of a pandemic really implies.

Though we are not there yet, a sudden spike in cases cannot be ruled out before the lockdown ends on 14 April 2020. The government is actively engaged in a wide-ranging consultation with all partners over this very issue. An announcement, therefore, is very much in the offing. But till the decision is actually made and announced, what should India do? It seems rather obvious that a full and complete lifting of the lockdown is not advisable or imminent. Not only have several states given their inputs to PMO to continue the lockdown, but it defies common sense to open up the country all at once. That would only lead to chaos and crowding of the most dangerous dimensions. If recent images of overcrowding in public places at Wuhan, China, the origin of Covid-19 are anything to go by, throngs of people in close proximity are just like living and ticking timebombs.

Phased solution

A slower, more orderly removal of cubs, either state or district-wise, depending on the severity of infections seems the better way forward. Such easing of restrictions need not happen immediately after the end of this phase of the announced lockdown, that is 14th April, but later, perhaps, at the end of the month. Another fortnight of monitoring and testing plus totally sealing of hotspots would tell us if we have flattened the infection curve somewhat.

By then, the world situation may also improve. We are already told that the worst is over in Europe, though the daily deaths do not as yet seem to corroborate it. In the United States, on the other hand, the virus seems to be sweeping virtually unchecked through hundreds of thousands of people across the length and breadth of the land. We cannot afford that in India. Right now, the populace, moreover, is prepared to stay indoors and quite able to manage the daily inconveniences of the lockdown.

We are properly prepped up to continue in this mode for another fortnight or so without some sort of severe reaction or outage. Food and essential supply chains also seems to be intact. Migrant labourers are already home or on the way to their villages. To ask them to return when they've just reached would be both unfair and unwise. They must rest and recuperate from the strain of their tortuous and perilous journeys back home. What we need to do instead of calling them back right away is to ensure that they are provided for wherever they may be. The government is doing its best so that our poorest of poor are not starving or highly at risk. We also need to take care of the Rabi harvest, which will soon be ready for reaping. Keeping the agricultural cycle intact will help the whole country maintain its food and income security to quite an extent.

After the lockdown

Even if the lockdown is to be extended, a window, planned, phased, and supervised, may be afforded for the resumption of some economic activities after adequate safeguards are in place. People who are stranded far away from home may also be allowed to return to their hometowns or domiciles during this window. Online shopping and delivery services may also be permitted to re-start, with both the service providers and consumers advised how to keep safe while handling delivering and handling packages.

If the extension or limited pullback of the lockdown is to succeed, however, what is most important is that social distancing, hand-washing, mask-wearing and other precautionary measures continue. That, as far as we know, is the only way to protect ourselves from the Wuhan Covid 2019 pandemic. If we faithfully follow the regulations and advisories, there is a good chance that we will come out of this without too much death, damage, or ruination.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

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Writer

Makarand R Paranjape Makarand R Paranjape @makrandparanspe

The writer is director, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. The views are personal.

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