Coronavirus | Opeds and editorials

A narrowing window: On extension of lockdown

The extension of the lockdown should lead to precise plans for an orderly exit

It appeared inevitable, and the Centre has accepted the view of several States to extend the national lockdown for the novel coronavirus until May 3. The decision provides comfort and continuity to those in charge of containing the pandemic, but it is a small window within which an orderly exit must be planned. While announcing the extension, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke of incentivising areas that avert a spike in cases — over 10,000 nationally — through rigorous enforcement of the restrictions. These areas are to be allowed limited exemptions in activity after April 20, once they pass the ‘litmus test’ and are not at risk of becoming hotspots. Such a scheme naturally presumes that everyone can get a free or highly affordable confirmatory test for viral infection or recovery, which could place them in a green territory. Again, this has to be aligned with well-recognised protocols on healthy behaviour to stop new infections. The Centre’s lockdown is the most rigorous globally, but it has witnessed severe gaps in implementation. Although the Home Ministry’s original 21-day order and subsequent enabling amendments on farming had clear clauses, many States did not abide by them. So much so, the Union Home Secretary has had to restate the order’s provisions allowing inter- and intra-State movement of goods vehicles. Active follow-up with State governments and clear instructions to enforcement agencies are necessary to help the public adhere to a curfew. The Prime Minister, who has affirmed the need to make full use of the rabi harvest, must ensure that intentions translate into results, and produce reaches the market. Failed communication — States are partly responsible — has resulted in distressing instances of arbitrary and often violent policing.

Further extensions of a lockdown appear less and less feasible, as pressure builds up in an economy rendered moribund by the coronavirus. Millions of workers are already dependent on meagre income substitution measures and food donations, and many face escalating private debt. The Finance Ministry’s welfare schemes need to be reviewed, and enhanced relief provided to all workers rendered unemployed through funds infusion and provision of food for at least six months. Those who have lost jobs, and senior citizens, should be able to enrol in the PDS online immediately. A gradual reopening of activity after May 3, going beyond essential services will require classification of infection risk for various groups, such as school and college students, teachers, and workers. The reality of COVID-19 is that there cannot be a return to normal overnight, and governments must plan for a sequential restoration of activity. The effort should be to enable the workforce, ensuring its health and safety.

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Printable version | Jul 2, 2020 12:09:19 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/a-narrowing-window-the-hindu-editorial-on-extension-of-india-coronavirus-lockdown/article31342017.ece

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