Economy amid a pandemic
As the Centre mulls over lockdown extension, likely to announce one today, kickstarting the economic wheel amidst strict regulations is inevitable. The threat of COVID-19 is widely understood and social distancing is perhaps the mantra for the next few months. But keeping a billion people under lockdown for large periods would prove very costly. Lockdowns are not equal for everyone; the plight of migrant labourers evidently conveyed that. While we may have ration to give out in large quantities for the next several months, basic ration provided to the poor alone is not the solution to a seemingly dystopian reality that has dawned upon us. More than the question of lockdown, India has to decide on the resumption of its economic activities that have taken a drastic hit since the third week of March. There have been discussions over a staggered exit strategy by the executive but taking cognisance of ground reality is a necessary precursor. In the next fourteen days, we shall witness the fruits of the national lockdown that was imposed back on March 24 to slow the spread of COVID-19. The decline in daily rise should be a motivation for the Centre to allow the resumption of economic activities across sectors albeit limitations to avoid any incident. Adhering to the widely accepted norms of masks, gloves, sanitizers as well as repeated disinfection of places and objects that can be a source of virus transmission, industrial units can resume activity. But they will have to ensure social distancing as well as function on a fraction of their workforce initially. Resuming with low staff and producing a fraction of their capacity would be a better alternative than staying shut in the wait to see the pandemic out. The uncertainty that the pandemic has brought along can topple all financial and economic planning, throwing industries, services and professionals into haywire. Hence, it is important to draw out plans for a gradual resumption of economic activities that would also allow for cash liquidity. Already, the Centre has taken steps to ensure that the agricultural harvest of rabi crops is unhindered due to the lockdown. Extending the benefit to certain other industries as well as services as the government deems fit would allow for an underperforming yet continuing economic cycle. ICAR has issued guidelines for harvesting, storage and marketing of rabi crops. In the same sense, other authorities can deliberate and come up with regulating norms so that business is resumed albeit with reasonable safeguards in place. Of course, they would require Centre's nod following the latter's extensive assessment of data over the spread of the virus and district-wise analysis of cases.
The lockdown has been helpful in allowing the Centre and states to take cognisance of their health infrastructure and ascertain preparedness levels in case of a sudden rise in cases. Though gradually, India is stepping up its testing regime and orders for additional PPEs and ventilators have been already made. The pharma companies are working round the clock to ensure efficient supply chains and Self-Help Groups have taken up the task of manufacturing masks that can be worn by the public at large. This is particularly of the essence since post-lockdown, masks would be a must for people when venturing out for any reason. While continued assessment of our health infrastructure is important, the second phase of lockdown should be utilised in deliberating on how to revive the economy. Slow strides can be made in this regard by restarting manufacturing units mainly in the least or unaffected districts with no inter-state travel. Such decisions, however, require more concrete data of where India stands with the COVID-19 spread. While the government prepares to take hard decisions, it must at all times ensure that each of its decisions must be taken keeping in mind the largely poor population that will invariably have to bear the brunt of the same.