Protecting lives and livelihood - Hindustan Times
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Protecting lives and livelihood

Hindustan Times | By
Jun 18, 2020 07:32 PM IST

The PM is right to focus on both. But more needs to be done

Over two days, Prime Minister Narendra Modi interacted with chief ministers — the sixth such interaction since March — on the coronavirus pandemic. There were three key threads to his message. The first was that the phase of the lockdown is over and governments need to extend the relaxations in a planned manner. This is an important intervention at a time when, due to a surge in cases, rumours about a lockdown have proliferated. The prime minister’s remarks make it clear that there will be no national lockdown anymore. This is positive. At the same time, state governments need to be flexible on the issue, for in particular geographies, hard measures may be required in case of a surge.

Over two days, Prime Minister Narendra Modi interacted with chief ministers — the sixth such interaction since March — on the coronavirus pandemic. His remarks make it clear that there will be no national lockdown anymore. This is positive.(REUTERS)
Over two days, Prime Minister Narendra Modi interacted with chief ministers — the sixth such interaction since March — on the coronavirus pandemic. His remarks make it clear that there will be no national lockdown anymore. This is positive.(REUTERS)

His second message was on the economy. The prime minister spoke about how there were green shoots visible in the economy; there was a revival across sectors; and governments needed to continue to protect livelihoods. It is understandable that as the nation’s leader, the prime minister has to exude optimism and confidence. But the fact is that the revival being witnessed is because of the opening up of economic activity after 68 days of a lockdown. This will not be sufficient. It is clear that this year, the Indian economy will see a contraction, unemployment will rise, demand will be low, businesses will shut down, and poverty will increase. As many chief ministers pointed out, migrant workers who have returned home are now reluctant to go back to cities and government schemes will not be enough to employ them. All of this indicates that the prime minister needs to back his message with stronger fiscal measures.

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And his final message was around the need to boost the health infrastructure, expand testing, and rigorously trace-track-isolate Covid-19 positive patients. This, in fact, should remain the single most important policy priority. For the prime minister’s thrust on opening up the country further and reviving the economy rests on bringing the disease under control to some extent. At this moment, India is moving in the opposite direction. Cases are rising. The fatality rate has increased. Hospital beds are running short. Testing is still inadequate. In cities like Delhi, where community transmission has undeniably taken place, the contact tracing process has weakened. To be sure, the government is attempting to remedy all these issues. But unless India is able to flatten the curve — it has not even peaked yet — all other objectives will remain elusive.

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