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Increasing Uncertainty

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Even though India comprises around one-sixth of the world’s population, it presently ranks something like thirtieth in the number of corona virus cases and fatalities. One reason given for this is the lack of testing in India. Even in the matter of fatalities, deaths are being reported that could be due to the virus, but were of undiagnosed persons. Despite the official numbers having been relatively low, they are beginning to show a disconcerting rise. It would seem that, despite the lockdown, things are beginning to fall through the cracks. And, it is not just the unpardonable actions of the Tablighi Jamaat that are responsible – others too are dragging their feet, some even for political reasons. The impact of the pandemic may hit the country when the rest of the world has got over the hump.

One immediate impact of this will be to further devastate the economy. If the lockdown achieves its goals, the community level spread will have been significantly halted. A week before the lockdown ends, it will be time to gradually, in a planned way, reintroduce economic activity that will not impact so much on the necessity of social distancing. Quite obviously plans must already be afoot in this regard. Industries, too, should plan how to begin operations because maintaining the supply chain is a huge priority. A lot of very basic services need also to be resumed.

If, however, things really go bad, it will become difficult to take the necessary steps towards normalcy, thereby prolonging everybody’s suffering. Unlike the US, where exact data is available on how many people have been rendered unemployed, nothing like the real figures are known in India, because much of everything goes undocumented. The same goes for how many small businesses have closed down permanently. If people could only understand how much is at stake, they would realise how desperately important is the social distancing weapon in the present. The picture should become clear in this regard in another week.

In the meanwhile, some innovative suggestions are being made on how to help one’s local businesses. The idea is for them to be paid online, now, for advance bookings, such as restaurant seats on a certain date, or goods one would be purchasing once the lockdown ends, etc., so that they have the money to pay their staff and otherwise keep their heads above water during this difficult period. The businesses, on their part, can offer discounts, which they normally do during festivals. In fact, one of the positive outcomes of this ongoing disaster could be the better off sections of society coming closer to the less privileged in many such ways.