The Indian Government’s calibrated response to the COVID-19 pandemic has now reached a point where it needs to be considered how the lockdown is to be withdrawn. There have been some major challenges, such as the attempted mass migration from states and cities by mostly daily wagers and casual labourers, as well as the criminal negligence and obstinacy of the Tablighi Jamaat, but these are being overcome through the combined efforts of all, not least civil society. With the general policy and strategic direction having been established by the Centre, the state governments are also undertaking their responsibility of grassroots implementation. Each state has now a much better understanding of its specific challenges and can, therefore, respond accordingly. This became more than evident on Tuesday with the detailed enunciation of their plans by the chief ministers of UP and Delhi. The lockdown has provided them the precious time required to fill in the gaps that had existed owing to insufficient information, infrastructure and equipment.
Now, it is the task of the Union Government to begin healing the wounds inflicted on the economy by this sudden global crisis. Also, because India remains, at present, between stages two and three of the pandemic, the possible options have also to be considered on further combating the spread. The picture should become clearer in another week, the time when the present lockdown period ends. It may be noted that the steep rise in the number of corona patients has been contributed considerably by the Jamaat factor. Minus that, community spread does not seem to have caught on even in the so called ‘hotspots’.
It is clear that the economy needs to be switched on in a phased manner for which the protocols are being worked out. Most certainly the sectors such as agriculture, health, equally essential services, particularly in manufacturing and public transport, will need to begin functioning. The people must be made to understand in the remaining period of the lockdown that it depends very much on them how quickly things will return to normal. A highly disciplined and self-enforced approach to social distancing will give governments the confidence to take chances.
At the same time, it is a certainty that in some parts the lockdown will have to continue, possibly in an even stricter fashion. These are hard decisions to take but going by its record, so far, PM Modi’s government has not hesitated where this has been necessary.