A principle strategy
Inching towards the final leg of the national lockdown put in place to flatten the transmission curve of COVID-19, the final week of April will be instrumental in shaping the Centre's outlook for May. Since the announcement of the extension on April 14, 10,000 cases have been added to the tally of those infected in merely a week. Not to be compared with the western nations where the graph took a devastatingly upward curve, India's own expectations have been thoroughly challenged by the novel virus. Back when the prime minister urged the importance of an extension to bring the spread under greater control, it was felt that the fruits of a timely imposed lockdown would become evident in the latter half of April. But the speed of spread only dampens such an expectation. Notwithstanding the rise, however, one must note that without the lockdown, or even the extension on April 14, numbers would have been catastrophic. While few states have shown a dangerous rise in cases, there have been several districts that have reported fall of cases. A thorough assessment should yield a better disease map of the country which would serve as the bedrock to formulate the Centre's approach. Offering constructive criticism, Congress also stressed on the same factor how the lockdown in its present nature is not going to yield anything. The continuous rise in cases portends an explosion in cases that may crumble the health infrastructure that has somehow kept up with the pandemic. One significant point here is that we are still missing a national action plan eliciting measures across sectors in all spheres and situations. Union Cabinet and its high powered committees comprising experts on their toes hold the mantle for a national action plan and its efficient execution. The dynamic character of this action committee is commendable but lack of a framework to adhere to while formulating strategies as per situational requirements is lamentable. One small instance of shortfalls that this ad hoc style of planning and execution has resulted in is the lapses in communication between the Health Ministry and ICMR. The mismatch in numbers has been a recurring issue. Had a national framework been in place, it would have assigned the functions to ensure smooth dissemination of information. Likewise, there have been complaints that the food grains earmarked for the poor are not reaching the poor and the migrants stranded in different states are bearing the brunt despite Centre's policy in place ensuring food for all. The Centre has ensured that all grievances have been resolved as and when raised but had a national framework been in place, such grievances need not have to be raised directly to the Centre for the latter's swift redressal of the same. Authorities designated for the said purpose would have to act or be responsible for the failure. A framework takes into account the various lapses that could occur and elicits measures during such times. But without any such pre-formulated guidelines in place, everything falls on the executive to decide as and when these lapses occur. Irrespective of the executive's proactive response to the same, a framework in place to steer the administration through a crisis remains irreplaceable.
It is prudent that the Centre comes out with a thorough framework with a multi-pronged approach to a variety of scenarios based on projections and current assessments. The upcoming week must be used to chalk out such a working framework. Colour-coding districts as per infection level, assigning functions to ground-level workers as per the requirement of the district and many such exclusive and general details ought to be elicited for the next month as India attempts to arrest the spread and treat the infected. Since the crisis is unprecedented, drafting any such action framework would be a novel experience. But the same can be built along the lines of a National Plan mandated under the Disaster Management Act, 2005. India needs a principle strategy in place to combat COVID-19, dynamically enriched to accommodate unforeseen developments.