By lockdown’s end: Plans to kickstart India’s economic engine keeping Covid-19 hazards in mind must be chalked up      

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Centre on Monday scotched the speculation that it has been decided to extend nationwide lockdown beyond 21 days. One hopes that there will be no reason to persist with the unprecedented measure inflicted upon us by the global health crisis. The aftermath of the lockdown could herald a different world for citizens, workplaces and societies with clear social distancing norms in place even as economic activity resumes. The lockdown has been instituted early enough to curb further disease transmission and to give enough time to ramp up capacity in the healthcare system. Yet the prioritisation of public health over economy was not an easy one.

India faces complexities that make it difficult to mimic either the Western liberal democracies or authoritarian China in its response to Covid-19. The former’s social security net and the latter’s resources and effective state capacity can take care of the needs of immobilised citizens for longer periods. India, in contrast, has far too many people in the unorganised sector feeding off daily wages, as is evident from the exodus of seasonal migrant workers. While the lockdown needs to be porous enough for essential supplies to pass and supply chains to remain functional, the days leading up to April 15 will require Centre and states to put heads together to prepare a post-lockdown action plan.

This will require governments to do the equivalent of keeping two balls up in the air, juggling economic and healthcare imperatives. Social distancing measures are difficult in typically cramped living quarters in rural and urban areas. But identifying vulnerable districts, setting up facilities for isolating elderly citizens, firming up disease surveillance teams and protocols to respond to localised outbreaks, and ramping up testing around disease clusters can offer a minimally disruptive path ahead.

Such a staggered, differentiated approach can allow cities and industrial pockets to get back on their legs in quick time. There is also hope, which need not yet be discounted entirely, that the torrid Indian summer which kicks in by mid-April can retard to some extent the ability of the coronavirus to spread through respiratory droplets. Ultimately, compliance by local authorities and by infected/ suspected individuals ordered into quarantine is key to winning this fight against Covid-19. Easing credit flows will help businesses overcome cash crunches and minimise job losses. Citizens must not surrender to fear, panic or defeatism despite rumour mongers and fake news peddlers abounding. India’s fightback needs all hands on deck.

This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.

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