How to gradually ‘unlock India’ after April 14

Amit Kumar Jain/Surbhi Jain | Updated on April 10, 2020 Published on April 08, 2020

Calibrated opening up of transport services, retaining Section 144, allowing restricted office attendance, are possible options

The coronavirus has put the entire world in the dilemma of prioritising the health of its people over the health of its economy. The only potent measures against the virus, as of now, are social isolation and social distancing which have virtually ‘locked down’ the world. India, too, proactively opted for a 21-day lockdown on March 24, till April 14. The Indian economy, already reeling under a purported ‘demand-side’ shock has to now endure a ‘supply-side’ shock.

As we approach April 14, we are faced with a tough predicament — whether to continue lockdown with long-term costs of economic slowdown, or choose rational and phased ‘unlocking’ allowing India to ‘return to work’. On the health side, one of the determinants for any decision would be the trend in the number of confirmed cases and whether India has entered the phase of community transmission. On the economic side, the determinant would be the extent of hardships faced by the ‘locked down’ sectors of the economy and various sections of the society. The decision on the duration of the lockdown needs to factor in the trade-off between the marginal (health) benefits and (economic) costs.

Gradual and phased

As this is an unprecedented time, there are various dynamic and inter-related forces at play and there are various opinions on the ideal duration of a lockdown. However, what is certain is that the unlocking of the economies would have to be gradual and phased. Some measures which can be considered as the ‘key to unlocking India’ are the following:

Section 144 may remain in force throughout the country for another one month to prohibit assembly of four people of more at one place. In the first phase, the identified hotspots may remain completely locked down for a further period until the spread stabilises. In other areas, educational institutes may be advised to declare summer vacations and open only from July, like every year. Students may be sent study material through electronic means.


Restaurants, clubs, malls, movie halls, parks, gyms, religious places, weekly markets and other areas where people gather at one place may remain closed in the first phase. Only take-away or home deliveries may be allowed from eating joints. Celebrations of festivals, parties, conferences, religious/social gatherings may also remain suspended for time being.

During the lockdown period, India Inc has already adopted work from home. Companies may be advised to continue working from home for at least 50 per cent of the employees for another month. For the remaining employees, flexible working hours or staggered working hours may be introduced to avoid overcrowding of public transport during the peak hours. Government offices may prepare a roster of employees on alternate days.

E-office and electronic means of communication should be increasingly used. Video conferencing shall be used for interdepartmental meetings. The physical meeting of people should be avoided as far as possible. The Supreme Court of India has already set an example by hearing important cases through video conferencing.

Work and public order

A Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) may be issued for public and private offices delineating guidelines to be followed such as availability of sanitisers, infra-red thermometers, liquid soaps in wash-rooms, not using contact-based biometric attendance system, queue management while maintaining adequate distance, etc. One senior officer in each office may be nominated to ensure adherence to SOPs. Private firms may be allowed to use mandatory Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds under Section 135 of the Companies Act, 2013, for containing the virus in their offices. To avoid spreading of virus through hand-operated sanitisers, foot-operated sanitisers shall be provided at public places and in offices.

As elderly people are vulnerable to the virus, we may follow the Turkey model which has banned elderly people aged 65 and above from going out. It shall be the responsibility of younger family members of the elderly to ensure that elderly people stay at home. Transportation sector may be instructed not to allow travel by elderly people. This may also be continued till July.

Transport services are essential to keep the nation running. With unlocking the country, the transportation lifeline has to be restored with adequate precautions like disinfection of rolling stock before entering into service, ensuring the availability of adequate toiletries in wash-rooms inside vehicles and at terminals, disinfection of public facilities at terminals, sanitisers and infra-red thermometers at entry gates, personal protective equipment for employees coming in contact with passengers, etc. Distancing norms of 1-2 metres may be adopted by marking footmarks at the queuing locations. Passengers shall not be allowed to enter terminals without masks. A detailed SOP to deal with such epidemics may be developed for transportation hubs.

The most affected sector due to this crisis is undoubtedly the aviation sector. However, given the nature of the spread of the virus, this sector has to be opened very cautiously. Outbound international travel to select countries may be opened after assessing the threat perception due to Covid-19 in these countries and to facilitate the return of citizens of other countries. Inbound international travel may remain suspended until the situation across the world improves.

Awareness and global best practices

It has been established that the spread of the virus can be contained by adopting simple tips such as social distancing, wearing masks, using sanitiser, frequently washing hands and sanitise/dispose of masks. A large-scale awareness campaign needs to be launched to educate people through mass media, social media, resident welfare associations, etc. An army of volunteers need to be trained using video conferences and deployed for the purpose. We can follow the Beijing model and make wearing masks compulsory in public places. Masks can be distributed for free at metro stations, railway stations, airports, buses, etc.

South Korea is one of the few countries which could successfully contain the spread of the virus without resorting to lockdown. Behind its success has been a large scale, well-organised testing programme combined with extensive efforts towards isolation, tracing contacts and quarantine. Further, South Korea successfully leveraged its IT infrastructure to track and trace the quarantined individuals. India has substantially raked up its testing facilities. We can also use IT tools like mobile apps to ensure that quarantined individuals remain in isolation for the prescribed period. The Aarogaya Setu mobile app recently launched by the Indian government to track your interaction with someone who could have been tested for coronavirus positive with the help of GPS and Bluetooth is a good initiative.

The infected ones may be mandatorily advised to install this app on their mobiles. The Odisha Government has made it mandatory for everyone coming from abroad to register themselves by dialling 104, an incentive of ₹15,000 is being offered for those registering and volunteering to isolate themselves. Similar measures can be adopted by other States to encourage people with symptoms to come forward and isolate the infected ones.

In these challenging times, the policies to flatten the infection curve need to be complemented with the policies to flatten the economic recession curve. This calls for a calibrated decision on the duration of the lockdown and steps to ‘unlock’ India.

Amit and Surbhi are authors of ‘Exploring Life @2050’. The views are personal

Published on April 08, 2020

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