Stress test: On revised lockdown guidelines

The pandemic battle will not end soon, but normalcy will have to be restored in phases

Updated - April 16, 2020 12:40 am IST

Published - April 16, 2020 12:02 am IST

The revised protocol for the extended period of lockdown that is now scheduled to end on May 3 indicates its staggered rollback starting from April 20. A partial reopening of the economy is being proposed, but a lot will depend on the extent of success in containing the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in particular areas. State and local administrations could continue with a tighter level of control on economic and social activities if required, according to the Centre’s guidelines announced on Wednesday. It is now clear that the battle against the pandemic will be drawn out, and normalcy in life will have to wait until a vaccine or a treatment line is found. It is impossible to keep the economy shut and people at home indefinitely. The proposed relaxations are, hence, a step forward. Industries outside city limits, certain types of construction both in rural and urban areas, segments of the service sector, and manufacturing partially will reopen after April 20. Small service providers, such as electricians, plumbers, IT repair, motor mechanics and carpenters, will be allowed to operate, which will help them and those who need to hire them. It will be a good idea to add tailors to that list, an essential service now that masks are mandatory in public and workplaces.


New measures also include punishment for spitting and a ban on tobacco and gutkha at workplaces. Those violating the quarantine could face up to six months in jail. Coercive measures fall heavily on the poor, and the government’s sledgehammer strategy for containment is pushing millions into a corner. Hungry and desperate migrants have rioted in several parts of the country. A more comprehensive strategy must involve helping people stay at home, incentives to employers to pay salaries, and expansion of welfare support for the most vulnerable. MGNREGA, which is meant to guarantee a minimum income to the poorest in situations of distress such as this, has completely collapsed. The programme will be allowed to restart now, but there must be proactive efforts to expand it. Another area in need of urgent attention of governments is the breakdown of general health care in many parts of the country, claiming several lives and leaving far too many begging for treatment. States such as Kerala and Rajasthan have involved local bodies and community organisations to provide food, medicine and other essential items to people at their locations, leading to near total compliance of lockdown guidelines. Going into the future, getting the country back on track will require mass education on mask use, hand hygiene and physical distancing to change social behaviour. The Centre must take the initiative to ensure that best practices from successful States are adopted across the country.

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