Lockdown: Exit plan must be well thought-out

Coronavirus Lockdown: Exit plan must be well thought-out

Migrant workers from the Indian state of Maharashtra rest under the shade next to a cart loaded with their belongings while walking along a National Highway 44 to reach their hometowns during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measur

It is now almost clear, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s video conference with state chief ministers on Monday, that there will be some relaxation in the national lockdown that has been imposed in the country for over a month. It was the fourth conference of the Prime Minister with the chief ministers to assess the status of the lockdown and to consider an exit plan. Some chief ministers wanted the lockdown to continue while others were for a gradual opening up. The Prime Minister was also aware of the need for some relaxation, as he said that “we have to give importance to the economy as well as continue the fight against coronavirus”. The national economy has taken a hit, and as the chief ministers complained, the state economies, which make up the national economy, are in dire straits. 

One possibility is that there will be greater focus on livelihood, which is closely linked to the functioning of the economy, as opposed to the almost total emphasis on saving lives when the lockdown started. The livelihood issue has been grossly ignored till now, especially in the case of those for whom livelihood is, in fact, life itself. A continued lockdown will have an impact on larger numbers of people and can structurally damage the economy. But the Prime Minister did not give away his thinking. While underlining the importance of the economy, he also said that the lockdown had saved lives and that social distancing had to continue. He said that the extent of reopening might depend on the inclination of state governments, and there is the need to look at separate administrative units. It is likely that a new balance is being thought of.  

All this might point to a slow and gradual reopening, implemented in different states in different ways. The situation in each state is different from that in another. In some, the spread and infection rates are not high, and some others have been impacted more. The lockdown and mitigation strategies have differed. Even within the states, some regions, districts or cities have done better than others. There is the need for a strategy that takes all this into consideration. A state which is better placed now, may face an increased threat tomorrow, and a green zone may turn into red zone in a matter of days. The situation emerging from increased testing is also an unknown. Therefore, the exit strategy has to be planned and executed with extreme care and caution.