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Opening Up

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Even though the Union and State Governments are easing restrictions on economic activities as part of Unlock 1, there is hesitation among most businessmen to follow through on this. It has been seen in Uttarakhand that those involved with the Char Dham Yatra and the tourism industry in any capacity have agreed to postpone resumption of activity till at least the end of June. This is partly because both these sectors will find it hard to operate under the prescribed guidelines – particularly as they tend to change overnight – and also due to the genuine fear that the pandemic has the potential to get nastier in the coming days. The fact that the virus is getting transmitted mainly by people coming from other states, particularly cities badly affected, has driven away the initial complacency caused by a near absence of cases in the state.

The education, entertainment and sports sectors cannot even see a light at the end of the tunnel in the present. While reopening of schools and colleges will expose the vulnerable young, the close proximity involved in theatres cannot be permitted at the present. Even resumption of film making and TV serials will have to be carefully done and the pitfalls will be many. It will prove a major challenge for writers and directors to weave stories in a manner that physical distancing is ensured. Often, overcoming such challenges results in brilliance! The best scenario is regarding sports, particularly the outdoor ones requiring little body contact, such as cricket and tennis. Since a considerable part of their earnings come from TV broadcasts, it is possible they will be among the first to start without the presence of spectators.

Would it be safer to, first, open the residential schools, which give Uttarakhand and Dehradun the great reputation as an education hub? The environment can be better controlled in these institutions, particularly the upmarket ones where most of the teachers and employees live on campus? The closing down of the FRI, for instance, did ensure the virus did not spread after the first cases. The IMA and the RIMC have been functioning with the proper precautions. Day schools, particularly those run by the government, however, will not be able to comply with the strict protocols required. As such, the authorities need to take a close look at alternative scenarios in the longer perspective. It would be well if the government begins discussions with each of these sectors on how things can be brought back on line, instead of leaving it to the bureaucrats, alone, to cook up impossible remedies!