Open after May 17 – editorials
As India enters the final week of its protracted blockade, there is a paradox confronting policy makers, which was visible at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with chief ministers on Monday. The blockade was imposed when the country had just over 500 cases. Today, India has about 70,000 cases. The blockade has not flattened the curve, although it has slowed the spread of infection. Is this, then, the right time to end the block? The answer is yes, but with caveats.
Each phase of the closure of India has been seen differently, with different degrees of relaxation introduced in red, orange and green areas since May 4. But given the complex ways in which supply chains are linked, urban spaces are organized and difficulties in implementation, it is clear that, although in principle robust, this has been too complex and nuanced a policy framework to implement it without problems. Nor has it led to the proper opening of the economy. The government seems to recognize this, and has increasingly begun preparing citizens to learn how to live with the virus. The opening of train travel, albeit on a limited basis, is another clue to the resumption of activities. At the same time, as the Prime Minister indicated, the Center wants to guarantee a certain degree of control over activities to avoid an unmanageable spread of the disease. Although opinion among states is divided on the blockade, there is a consensus on the need for more economic activities.
Given economic distress, fiscal pressure on states, and the fact that the blockade is yielding diminishing returns on the health front, the government now needs to open India. This must be accompanied by five measures. One, give states the authority to declare red, orange, and green zones and allow them to decide on the restrictions they want, particularly in containment zones, even when the Center provides the support they need. Two allow interstate travel, but mainly by road, while train and plane travel are kept limited, complying with social distancing regulations. Three, allow the opening of offices, but with a notice, not a directive, that working from home should be preferred whenever possible. Four, keep educational institutions and public recreational places closed for another month. And five, each time a case is reported, institute a testing, contact tracing, and isolation exercise. It will be difficult, but India can no longer remain closed.