Lockdown: Need an Exit Plan

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Union government is mulling extension of the lockdown after state governments expressed their reservations about returning to normal life following the end of the three-week lockdown which is ending on April 14. The move comes days after the Prime Minister Narendra Modi  had called upon chief ministers to come up with a strategy towards a “staggered exit” from the lockdown. The PM’s idea was a district-wise phased exit plan in which only coronavirus hotspots would remain under lockdown  and rest of the areas would be partially allowed to reopen. But many states weren’t ready for this as not only would the implementation have been challenging, there would have been a risk of further spread of the virus. More so, when Covid-19 cases are still seeing a steep growth, albeit the number is still  far short of what was being feared.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases has crossed the 5,000-mark.But the lesser number could be the result of inadequate testing. It is possible there are a significant number of positive cases or carriers out there, infecting others. Or may be India hasn’t been as hit by virus as Europe and the US and the lockdown might have been announced just in time to prevent the infection from proliferating. There is a distinct possibility that India may have just escaped the ravages of the virus as otherwise there would have been a lot many deaths of the still unknown Covid-19 cases. Thankfully this has not been the case.  But the situation could dramatically change in what is seen as “make or break” upcoming week.

Testing remains the key to comprehend the extent of the proliferation of the disease in the country. That said, extending the lockdown has its flip side. Unlike the west or for that matter even China, India is a poor country. Millions depend on daily wages to manage two square meals. This became clear when the announcement of lockdown triggered an exodus of migrant labour from the cities.  According to the International Labour Organisation as a fallout of the “worst global crisis since World War II”, around 400 million Indians employed in the informal sector are at risk of slipping deeper into poverty. So, further extension of the lockdown will be a fraught step. Government can’t afford a sweeping shutdown of businesses. It has to let some sectors of the economy open as also the least affected areas and regions. This is important to ease the human cost of the lockdown.

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