Exiting The Lockdown

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As the second phase of lockdown nears the end, the union government is in a bind as to the future. The government is unenviably caught between the desperate need to flatten the Covid-19 curve and to revive the economy. It is a tough situation to be in. In fact, the urgency to reopen the economy is becoming greater by the day across the world. But in a country like India where a significant population ekes out a hand to mouth existence, it is impossible to continue with an indefinite lockdown. More so, when the government is in no position to extend a monetary help to the poor and needy beyond a point. So, the union government faces a difficult choice. And it has to make this choice in a few days from.now.

Initial pointers from the prime minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with chief ministers on Monday have underlined that the states with a growing number of Covid-19 cases are likely to see a stricter lockdown post May 3 than those with Green Zones. However, “the mode of restrictions and modalities of exit” from the lockdown in Green Zones would be announced before the second phase of the lockdown ends

As of Monday, India’s number of Covid-19 positive cases has passed 27000. The number has been doubled in around eight days, an average that gives some hope that, if all goes well, the country may be able to get a handle on the runaway infection in near to medium term. But this is what makes easing the lockdown a fraught proposition. Once the markets open and people start gathering again things could go back to square one. So, it won’t be an easy decision to lift the lockdown. The government will have no option but go for a gradual easing.

Also, any decision to reopen the economy will require the government to ramp up testing and tracing protocols to avoid the proliferation of new Covid-19 clusters. The week ahead will thus be busy. Government will have to expand testing and also ensure there are no fresh outbreaks in major urban centres. More so the 13 such centres comprising Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad, Indore, Pune, Jaipur, Hyderabad, Thane, Surat, Chennai, Bhopal, Agra, and Jodhpur — which account for more than half the cases in the country.

However, the upcoming week will be crucial in terms of the trajectory of pandemic in the country in the country. A diminishing number of cases will make it easier to plan an exit strategy. And in any case, the government can’t ignore the growing urgency to reopen the economy. And to start with the best strategy would be to considerably ease the lockdown from the least affected areas of the country.

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