There is hope that ‘opening up’ will begin following the drop in Covid-19 cases in Uttarakhand. The state government is still not satisfied with the improvement as the infection rate has not dropped to the 5 percent level suggested by the Centre. Uttarakhand remains one of the states causing concern in this regard. The number of deaths is also not decreasing at the desired pace. The government’s hesitation to ease matters is quite understandable in this context.
On the other hand, the economy is already stressed to near breaking point. Dependent heavily on tourism, pilgrimage, the hospitality and education sectors, the state’s earnings are severely challenged. Certain sections of society are very hard hit, particularly the ‘invisible’ small salary earners in the ‘informal’ sector. While the plight of daily wagers and other sections of the working class are quite visible and attempts are being made to help them out, employees of small companies and local businesses have little to fall back upon. Many of them have to pay for children’s education, as also the upkeep of dependent parents. And there is little they can do about it.
The government should be worried because this is not only causing human suffering but also generating considerable anger. Not having any clear understanding of the stress faced by the system, people are tending to blame the powers that be. The support for more extreme and motivated ‘reports’ on social media is growing as a result. Under the circumstances, certain calibrated and innovative measures need to be taken to get commercial activities back on track. Efforts should also be made to obtain fiscal packages from the Centre that could stimulate business activity. Those affected should be asked for ideas on how recovery could be initiated under the present constraints.
Lessons have to be learned from the previous opening up experience and what went wrong. Preparations for the possible next wave do not just mean providing more oxygen beds and ventilators; it also has to do with closing the chinks in the armour. A practical, implementable protocol has to be worked out for each public interface – from the thela wala, the crowded bazaars to the supermarkets. Allowing those fully vaccinated greater freedom of movement, such as travel to tourist destinations and the religious sites could also be tried. Merely responding to situations will not do, there has to be a proactive response. This will not become possible without public involvement in shaping the solutions.