A smart lockdown| HT Editorial
In his interaction with chief ministers on Saturday, Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi reformulated a popular phrase which he used while declaring the national lockdown to outline a change in the nature of the national objectives. On March 24, while emphasising the need for social distancing and urging people to stay home, he said, “Jaan hai toh jahan hai” — if one is alive, there is a world. This was meant to place the premium on health, unarguably the single-most-important priority at a time when the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) has shaken the world. On Saturday, he said, “Jaan bhi, Jahaan bhi” — lives also, the world also. This does not, in any way, undermine the emphasis on health, but along with saving lives, the PM seemed to hint that India also has to restore a degree of economic normalcy and allow everyday life to resume, where possible.
This is a sound approach. It will, however, need the government’s continued focus and calibrated policy vis-à-vis both elements. First, health. There is more known about Covid-19 than a month ago. Here is what India needs to do, beyond this phase of the lockdown to the next set of restrictions. Continue to ramp up testing to be able to identify positive cases to have the basis to intervene. Enhance quarantine facilities to ensure that those who are positive can be isolated. Expand the contact tracing apparatus, including through the use of technology, to be able to find people who may have come in contact with those tested positive. Add and remove containment zones, where a more strict form of a lockdown is in place, on an everyday basis depending on the evidence available. Source, from whatever mechanisms possible, more personal protective equipment for health workers who are risking their lives every day. Ensure there are enough hospital beds and ventilators in place to prepare for a surge in cases. And take special case of states where the health infrastructure is particularly weak but which have a high density of population such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
On the economy, this newspaper has argued for a comprehensive stimulus of Rs 10 lakh crore. But in the immediate context, it is important to smoothen the supply of essentials, allow some sectors and factories to open up on the condition of them meeting safety and social distancing norms, and providing relief to agriculture. Implementing partial restrictions will be a key challenge here, and security personnel will have to be carefully sensitised to what is allowed and what is not. It is time to move to the next phase of a, as a government official put it, “smart lockdown”.