Open with caution: On Unlock 1

A resumption of economic activity is essential, but the vigil on the virus must remain

Updated - June 01, 2020 11:20 am IST

Published - June 01, 2020 12:02 am IST

It is a truth universally acknowledged now that the severe restrictions to contain COVID-19 produced traumatic displacement of the weakest sections , while the check on infection spread was modest. The Centre’s move for a phased unlocking of public activity after the rigorous lockdown since March 25 sets the stage for people to resume their jobs and undertake some travel. The ‘Unlock 1’ plan should ensure a careful restarting of activities, the most important of which is the delivery of goods and everyday services, including health services unrelated to COVID-19 infections . Latest data since the virus surfaced in the country show that 13 cities, including some of the biggest metros, host 70% of the cases, and many of the earlier restrictions will continue there. Retaining curbs on big gatherings, such as in religious places, is reasonable, given the history of these sites unwittingly becoming super spreaders. But States must show diligence in actively testing and quarantining individuals in cities with high incidence to significantly control the spread. Half-hearted approaches to implementing the measures mandated by the National Directives for COVID-19 Management, such as those on face cover, physical distancing in public places, shops and establishments, spitting, and gathering in large numbers, can only worsen the crisis, especially with resumption of public transport. Citizens who have accepted severe curtailment of liberties during the lockdown can be persuaded to adopt a healthy public behaviour code using measures that are civil, yet firm.

Even with the easing of the lockdown, the severe economic contraction caused by loss of jobs requires governments to demonstrate as much commitment to mitigating misery as to containing infection. A genuinely universal PDS with adequate supplies of foodgrain, ensuring that no one is left behind, must be provided in all States. Cash supplements should reach all intended beneficiaries. This needs to be underscored, as surveys of workers who lost jobs after the pandemic indicate rising hunger levels and missing financial support. Some sections, such as Dalits, women, and low-skilled workers are even worse off. For the elderly, vulnerable individuals and children below 10, the Centre’s advice is to shelter in place even during the relaxation phase. This is medically sound advice, but cannot be done over a long period in big cities, as they cannot access goods and services at their doorstep, simply because they are classified as non-essential. The course of COVID-19 in the weeks ahead is by no means predictable, and the Centre recognises the possibility of new rural clusters emerging due to large-scale return of migrants. Whether in the cities or the countryside, ‘Unlock 1’ must prioritise some actions: create public awareness that the virus is present, ramp up testing, provide health services, and intensively monitor relief measures.

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