Lift COVID-19 lockdown now to revive economic activity or risk revolt of the jobless and penniless

India must cautiously but swiftly ease strictures as COVID-19 phobia threatens to kill more people than the virus has.

Abhijit Majumder May 29, 2020 00:15:35 IST
Lift COVID-19 lockdown now to revive economic activity or risk revolt of the jobless and penniless

There are two things that work with startling efficiency in an Indian government office: the air-conditioner and the chaiwallah. Often, that makes the crucial difference between how ministers, bureaucrats, district magistrates and junior officers view the nation and the reality on its tar-melting summer streets.

Many of those in the air-conditioned cabins may seek the apparent political safety of low COVID-19 numbers, vociferously fear-monger and mindlessly delay the expiry of rules that paralyse.

But time has come to lift the lockdown cautiously. In phases, but with a faster pulley. Slowly on the ground, faster in the collective psyche.

People are losing livelihoods by the hundreds of thousands now. Construction workers, cabbies, tech professionals, marketing executives, journalists, jewel cutters…everyone is losing jobs. Food riots are breaking out on highways and railway stations. Instead of the next Bollywood hit, your mobile videos bring you the horrors of hell – a baby playfully trying to wake her dead mother lying on a railway platform; a starving man-eating animal carcass on the Jaipur-Delhi highway; migrant worker mobs smashing parked vehicles and looting roadside shops, driven delirious by walking hungry and penniless in 45°C  heat for hundreds of miles back home.

Lift COVID19 lockdown now to revive economic activity or risk revolt of the jobless and penniless

Migrant workers from other states desperate to return to their homes walk through rail tracks towards a train station in Ahmedabad. AP

The coronavirus kills about six of a hundred people it breaks into. It is highly contagious and still does not have a vaccine. And it is not going to go away in the next few months, maybe years.

But we are at a point where the fear of corona is threatening to murder more people than the virus itself kills. It is beginning to actually kill people through fallouts of a prolonged lockdown. There is a long journey back home and a short one from poverty to pennilessness.

State Bank of India’s research Ecowrap indicates that the country’s economy could shrink by over 40 percent in the April-June quarter of 2020-21. Goldman Sachs had projected a 45 percent dip. The Indian economy lost Rs 1.4 lakh crore in just the seven days of lockdown on 24-31 March. The number of coronavirus cases is bound to go up each day. Perhaps even a second wave will come. But India can no way afford to hasten a crippling human and economic disaster by enforcing work and travel curfews.

The nation must learn to live around COVID-19. The way we live with other diseases around. The way rafts make their way around rocks in a rapid. We need knowledge, skills, expertise, precaution and the right gear.

Worst-affected nations are fast pulling themselves out of the wreckage. In Germany, Bundesliga football matches resumed with empty stadiums on 16 May. Shops of all sizes can reopen with strict hygiene and social distancing.

Schools have been partially reopened. Borders with Austria, France and Switzerland will be fully open from June, reports BBC.

Families can meet up, but big public events and festivals are banned till August end.

In Italy, torn to shreds by the pandemic, people can now travel for longer distances, visit their relatives in small numbers. Travel between regions will restart on 3 June.'

Bars and restaurants cautiously reopened on 18 May with fewer tables and plastic shields to separate diners. Italians are also free to get a haircut or attend a mass, with strict social distancing.

BBC reports that gyms and swimming pools reopened in most regions on 25 May but not in Lombardy, the epicentre of Italy's crisis.

Japan ended its emergency on 25 May.

“It drove down the number of daily new cases to near target levels of 0.5 per 100,000 people with voluntary and not very restrictive social distancing and without large-scale testing. Instead, the country focused on finding clusters of infections and attacking the underlying causes, which often proved to be overcrowded gathering spots such as gyms and nightclubs,” Science Mag reports.

India needs to adopt some of these best practices and continue opening up with certain restrictions. Besides, corporations leaving China present us with an opportunity to welcome them and reverse some economic damage.

It is time India rises above overcautiousness and bickering of governments and parties, cloying tardiness of the bureaucracy and petty phobia of residents' welfare associations and COVID-19 and economic ruin as a plucky, united nation.

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