Be transparent on post-April 14 strategy

| Updated on April 08, 2020 Published on April 08, 2020

Consult, formulate and inform — the health and economy plan should be drawn up in advance and through dialogue for best results and least pain

As we approach the April 14 deadline for the end of the 21-day national lockdown to prevent the spread of Covid-19, an extension seems inevitable. Indeed, some States such as Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra have already announced an extension in certain districts till the end of this month. The emergence of Covid-19 as a health emergency as well as the biggest economic challenge in recent history underscores the need for better planning, consultation and communication between people and governments. The future course of action has to focus on not just halting the virus trajectory and building a more responsive healthcare system but also addressing the crippling impact on the economy, livelihoods and the financial system. There are lessons to be learnt from the abrupt announcement of the lockdown on March 24. Its effectiveness was threatened when millions of panic-stricken migrant workers fled the cities for their villages because of sudden job loss and homelessness. The present crisis is an epidemiological and economic challenge. It is important to lay out an effective strategy on both counts — while deciding in advance, and through consultation, what form a lockdown or other curbs should take in the days to come.

The move by the Health Ministry to put its cluster containment strategy in the public domain is to be welcomed in this context. Although the epidemiological data in India is still not sufficient to predict the trajectory and severity of the virus spread, the Ministry seems to have acknowledged the efficacy of the strategy developed by the Rajasthan government in what has come to be known as Bhilwara model. This prescribes geographical isolation, intense screening and surveillance through house-to-house surveys and creating huge isolation facilities. This is a necessary step given the spike in the daily number of Covid-19 cases in India despite the lockdown. With nearly 5,500 confirmed cases (as of April 8), the absolute number of infected may be still much less in India as compared to the US, where it is above 400,000, or Spain, where it has crossed 1.4 lakh — but the number of cases is rising sharply as government agencies intensify contact tracing and testing. India’s rate of testing is still critically low at just 102 per million population, in contrast to even laggard countries like the US where the rate is 6,291 tests per million population, while Norway is leading the world with 20,000 tests per million population.

Concerted steps are also needed to bring the economy back on track. A critical issue is to organise the harvest and procurement of the rabi crop. Allowing greater movement of goods and people seems inescapable. Precisely how the purchasing power of the people will be maintained in the face of joblessness and salary cuts and in what manner and phases would businesses and establishments be reopened, are critical questions. A strategy formulated through consensus with the States and other stakeholders needs to be communicated in advance, to minimise pain, panic and chaos.

Published on April 08, 2020

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