A fourth of its kind meeting between various chief ministers and the Prime Minister signalled a cautious approach to next month's exit strategy. The steep rise in cases, especially in Gujarat and Maharasthra, strongly herald an extension to the ongoing lockdown till mid-May; if not for the entire nation, then at least for the states where a marked spike in cases have been recorded. While a lockdown in containment zones is undisputed, buffer zones and non-affected or green zones could witness some resumption of business in May. Yet, Prime Minister's apprehension that cases may once again peak in June-July indicates the mandate for an ever-vigilant approach. Given the size and population of the country, nearly 30,000 cases would appear to be an achievement for the world. But to us, the fact that it reached 30,000 is in itself alarming and hence, India has increased the testing rate, especially in hotspots, to get a more accurate picture of the crisis. Unless the administration is informed as to how deep the virus has penetrated society, any strategy for a calibrated exit would merely be a theory. And, the need of the hour is to pragmatically move forward and not sit on theories. All arms of the government are working proactively to synthesise a positive result for the country, its economy and its people. ICMR's dynamic testing strategy and a fresh rejection of the rapid testing kits imported from China reflect that mindset. It has accordingly ordered states to return those kits as they failed quality tests and would, therefore, be returned to the suppliers. Even the Centre has been issuing directives to states after invoking the 'Disaster Management Act'. It issued advisories mandating measures to be followed and relaxations for mild economic resumption. It further dispatched teams to various states to oversee the strict implementation of lockdown norms. It strengthened the archaic 'Epidemics Diseases Act' to safeguard healthcare workers who have been subject to violence and discrimination amidst the pandemic. While the Union government has naturally led the fight against the virus, the spirit of cooperative federalism has been called into action to better implement directives. States are witnessing a varying level of difficulty and require custom directives to recover from the crisis. One size certainly does not fit all. Before any major announcement regarding May 3, the Union Government must coordinate its decision with states as per their situation. A joint analysis of a national assessment of the crisis as well as state-specific assessment shall be done to arrive at a prudent decision.
There could be multiple categories for pursuing extended lockdown post-May 3. Statewise categorisation — eight states have recorded 80 per cent of total cases — or district-wise colour coding — into Red, Orange and Green — can be pursued to extend the lockdown. Going by the inherent logic that timely imposition of national lockdown prevented cases from compounding and reaching adverse levels, the most rational thing would be to extend the lockdown since the true impact of the same would start to show up in May only. But given the cost of a third extension which would be a devastating drag on the economy and livelihoods of vulnerable sections, it would be better to opt for a calibrated exit. Metropolises such as Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai are thus bound to face an extended lockdown while orange and green districts, where cases have receded, can be allowed to open shops and factories with social distancing norms. The underlying objective has to be along the lines of South Korea — trace, test and treat. Under no situation can we let our healthcare infrastructure be overburdened by the rising cases which is why the strategy to let patients with mild symptoms recover at home seems a prudent one. There are many suggestions and as many reservations. It is a crucial week for the government and its decisions would steer the country across an unprecedented summer in our independent history.