Protection of lives and livelihoods: editorials
For two days, Prime Minister Narendra Modi interacted with senior ministers, the sixth interaction since March, about the coronavirus pandemic. There were three key threads in his message. The first was that the closure phase has ended and governments must extend the relaxations in a planned manner. This is a major intervention at a time when, due to an increase in cases, rumors of a blockade have proliferated. The Prime Minister’s comments make it clear that there will no longer be a national closure. This is positive. At the same time, state governments must be flexible on the subject, since in particular geographies, harsh measures may be required in the event of a sudden increase.
His second message was about the economy. The Prime Minister spoke about how there were visible green shoots in the economy; there was a rebirth in all sectors; and governments must continue to protect livelihoods. Understandably, as the nation’s leader, the prime minister has to exude optimism and confidence. But the fact is that the revival that is being witnessed is due to the opening of economic activity after 68 days of closure. This will not be enough. It is clear that this year the Indian economy will see a contraction, unemployment will rise, demand will be low, companies will close and poverty will rise. As many chief ministers pointed out, migrant workers who have returned home are now reluctant to return to the cities, and government schemes will not be enough to employ them. All of this indicates that the Prime Minister needs to back up his message with stronger fiscal measures.
And his final message was about the need to boost health infrastructure, expand testing, and rigorously track isolated Covid-19 positive patients. This, in fact, should remain the highest political priority. For the prime minister’s push to open up the country further and revive the economy, the disease is under control to some extent. Right now, India is moving in the opposite direction. The cases are increasing. The mortality rate has increased. Hospital beds are running low. The evidence is still inadequate. In cities like Delhi, where community transmission has undoubtedly taken place, the process of locating contacts has weakened. To be sure, the government is trying to remedy all of these problems. But unless India is able to flatten the curve, it has not yet reached its peak, all other targets will remain elusive.