The hard balancing act – editorials
Amid speculation that the national shutdown, which ends April 14, could be extended, Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered the first hint of the government’s thinking on the matter in his interaction with the chief ministers on Thursday. He said the Center and the states must, together, work on an exit plan for the closure that would allow for a gradual resurgence of citizens. This indicated that while the total blockade will not extend, the restrictions will remain in place, possibly in high-risk groups, for the most vulnerable demographic groups, such as the elderly, and for interstate and international travel.
This is a difficult balancing act and there are no easy options here. On the one hand, there is the opinion that India will need a longer blockade in order to flatten the infection curve. This has not happened yet, due to the delay that exists between a person who becomes infected, is tested and gets results. The hope is that within a week from now, the effect of the blockade will begin to show some impact. If this is the case, extending it is sensible, because opening the country could once again revive the transmission chain. The other school of thought prioritizes the economic costs of the blockade, and is based on the belief that there is a major disruption to livelihoods and there may even be deaths due to distress. As there is no immediate cure for the virus, India has to learn to adapt, and restoring normality, while remaining cautious, is the only way out.
The government is clearly trying to strike the right balance amidst these contrasting approaches. The staggered revival, in that sense, has merit. But this will need clearly defined rules: who should be allowed, who is prohibited from moving. But more importantly, you will face implementation challenges. In India, enforcing a total blockade has been difficult; applying a partial one will be even more challenging. In the final analysis, it is better for the government to wait and allow science and data to dictate the decision closer to the end of the blockade. If India has been able to increase its health infrastructure, and infections are declining, phased recurrence may work. If India is experiencing a sudden surge and your health system is still unprepared, it may be better to extend the block longer.