Coronavirus Outbreak: As end of lockdown approaches, Narendra Modi entrusts states, Cabinet colleagues to figure out road map for way ahead
India has so far been able to contain the pandemic compared to Europe and the US where the novel coronavirus cases have reached alarming proportions
What happens on 15 April when the 21-day national lockdown period ends? Will the lockdown be lifted? Will graded exit plan come into existence? These are the foremost questions people are asking themselves and informally enquring anong other, family friends, acquaintances and office groups.
After the conclusion of fourth meeting of 15-minister informal Group of Ministers (GoM) headed by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh government sources said a lot of state governments as well as experts are requesting the Centre to extend the lockdown.
Besides the GoM, a Group of Secretaries is also deliberating on the subject, collecting inputs from all stakeholders and various other related organisations and experts and preparing a note. Over half a dozen states have either hinted or come out in open saying that the situation was not conducive as yet to ease restrictions including Telangana chief Minister KC Rao who is in favour of extending the lockdown till first week of June.
A senior minister, who is part of the GoM told Firstpost that all inputs gathered and the deliberations made by the GoM would be placed before Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take the final decision. Based on these inputs and daily updates on COVID-19 , as also the emerging social behaviour with relation to social distancing and self-discipline, the decision would be announced in days to come, slightly ahead of 14 April.
As per available indications things appear to be moving to a direction whereby lockdown in all likelihood will be extended for some more time. Since it’s very dynamic and a crisis situation, government sources including ministers and officials are unwilling to commit anything beyond the current factual position.
India has so far been able to contain the pandemic compared to Europe and the US where the novel coronavirus cases have reached alarming proportions prompting US surgeon general warning of a “Pearl Harbor moment” next week.
The Modi government, however, is not taking any solace in that. Sources said the situation continues to be grim. The number of COVID-19 cases as on Tuesday afternoon was 4,421 including 354 new cases and 117 deaths including eight since yesterday. About one-third of these cases originated from Tablighi Jammat event and movement of participants across the country and more tests are being conducted on the participants and people with whom they may have come in contact.
There are examples of Western nations including the USA, Italy and Spain where the numbers suddenly shot up after remaining low for some time. Modi had referred to that trend in his first address to nation. The government in at Centre and in the states are not willing to take any chances.
Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, joint secretary Lav Agarwal in his daily briefing said many festivals are due next week and made an appeal to various communities to support government agencies in enforcing effective lockdown.
He added that a recent study stated that if someone does not follow social distancing then in 30 days a single person could infect 406 persons and 2.5 persons would be infected if social distancing is maintained by a single person.
Sources said even in the graded exit plan resumption of flight, rail and interstate road services will not be on priority. Rail and air connectivity would come much later.
Two things are to be noted here -- first, last week Modi asking the chief ministers to come out with their ideas and plans on graded exit from lockdown. Second, Modi asking his cabinet ministers for a 'new normal' plan after the lockdown and identify 10 priority areas. It goes without saying that new structures and process, in all spheres of economy and work places would come into place after the current corona crisis is over.
By asking them to formulate plans individually, which possibly will be deliberated collectively or at designated offices, Modi has thrust an additional sense of responsibility to people in position of authority. The ministers would make plans with help of officials and experts at disposal of respective ministries, or they would make plans and minister would only be the guide. But even then his responsibility has been enhanced for he or she has to present it before the prime minister.
The larger point in Modi urging the chief ministers to prepare an exit plan is not just including the states in the decision making process but this would perhaps be the first occasion, at least in the last few decades when the Centre and all the states and UTs are working in close coordination over a single issue. The cooperative federalism, which so far was used only to suggest political correctness, has turned into a reality.
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