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Even as local lockdowns of various kinds will continue to be enforced at places where administrators think matters are going out of control, there is need at the same time to take equally strong proactive measures on the opening up of critical institutions like schools, colleges, cinema halls and hotels. For this, perhaps, certain ‘pilot projects’ could be launched to work out the necessary protocols. In fact, it can be said that the sum total of the learning during the pandemic has been use of masks, sanitisation and physical distancing. After all, those involved in ‘essential’ services through this period have survived on this very basis and the ones that did contract the virus did so because of breaks in this chain. With more and speedier tests available now, it has become possible to check on the virus’ presence among a group of people to pre-empt the spread.
So, while it would not be right to involve school children in the first stage of experimentation, could not a small college, preferably residential, be asked to resume teaching in the physical presence of students under carefully controlled conditions? With the knowledge available at present, the protocols could be worked out so that there is a reasonable assumption of safety – certainly more than that seen in the bazaars and streets these days. If, over a month’s time, the virus is successfully kept out, the practices could be replicated in other colleges.
Hotels, which are so essential for resumption of all-important tourism, have already had some experience of functioning under controlled conditions, as many were used as quarantine centres. Could not the more upmarket ones, which have the quality of staff and the facilities, be allowed to operate without crippling restrictions? It has already been seen that a considerable number of tourists have begun to arrive from the big cities, hoping to relieve the tensions built up during the months of lockdown. Uttarakhand also has a large number of resorts and guest houses in remote locations, where spread of the virus would be easier to prevent. These should be promoted as destinations to turn the present challenge into an opportunity. In fact, this is already happening and should be carefully and gently regulated to keep matters under control.
The next step, of course, could be with residential schools, which can be sealed off for the children’s safety till such time things get better. They could function autonomously, as have so many housing societies in the cities, with minimal interaction with the outside world. After studying the results from these measures, it may perhaps become possible to go on further with the very necessary opening up in the other areas. There don’t seem to be any other options available at the present if life is to go on.