Opening is the right decision – editorials
After 68 days, India opens today. While each phase of the blockade was accompanied by a set of relaxations, the government’s decision to frame the period from June 1 to June 30 as Unlock 1.0 is symbolic. It represents a psychological leap. From being locked up and banned from participating in a variety of activities, Indian citizens will now be allowed to resume their daily lives, with limited restrictions and while remaining careful.
India entered a national blockade when it had around 500 cases of coronavirus disease (Covid-19). As the country opens up, more than 5,000 people have died from the disease, and the number of cases progressively increases to 200,000. Opening, then, may seem counterintuitive. After all, with more cases, shouldn’t people stay home? But this view ignores both science and economics. It is clear that most people who become infected are asymptomatic or have mild to moderate symptoms, and can recover with care and precautions. The fact that India’s death rate of 2.8% is less than the global death rate of more than 6% is also encouraging. And the fact that the recovery rate is constantly increasing also shows the limits of the disease. This, of course, should not lead to complacency or to any kind. But science provides enough evidence to show that infections don’t necessarily translate into deaths. The second reason why openness is essential is, of course, the economy. In 2019-2020, which only accounted for the seven days of closing, India’s GDP grew by only 4.2%. The blockade has paralyzed economic activity. There is now an emerging consensus that the economy, in this fiscal year, will contract. This will make businesses infeasible, increase unemployment, reduce purchasing power, reduce demand, and possibly bring millions back into poverty. The humanitarian crisis with the exodus of migrant workers is the most symbolic manifestation of the economic situation.
So both science and economics dictate that India should open up. But as it does, there will be more cases. Governments have used the blockade to increase testing, mask production, and personal protective equipment; and create dedicated Covid-19 hospitals. But both the state and citizens will have additional responsibilities as activities resume. For their part, governments will have to deploy all their energy to increase the health infrastructure even further to prepare for a sudden increase in cases. Citizens must also bear great responsibility. The pandemic is not over; in fact, it has not even peaked in India. Go out when essential, keep social distance, wear masks. They must remember that their lives, and the lives of everyone around them, are at stake. Openness requires more government oversight and citizen accountability.