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Inevitable exit strategy

Inevitable exit strategy

The Prime Minister's video conference with chief ministers of several states on Thursday brought to the fore a highly relevant question of an exit strategy from the national lockdown in place till April 14. While states were asked to brainstorm and submit suggestions for a comprehensive strategy, PM opined one possible outcome could be a staggered re-emergence of the population after the lockdown ends. Foremost, a conference of chief ministers presided upon by the PM was need of the hour. The cooperative federalism that our Constitution provides for is crucial in the current crisis. The contagion has spread havoc across the country and for a country as of the size of a sub-continent, it is important to note that individual strategies might make a bigger mess than we found ourselves in right now. As cases rise unabated, the impact of lockdown will be felt in a few days from now when there is an evident decline in the daily increase. ICMR's Department of Health Research had estimated that the current 21-day lockdown will cause a dip of 43 per cent in the epidemic and 19 per cent in total mortality. In fact, ICMR recommendation has largely informed government actions with the former recommending quarantining and random testing rather than focussing on border screenings in February. All governments across the globe have relied on mathematical models to formulate strategies in tackling the pandemic. When Donald Trump said the next two weeks in April will be painful for America, it was their mathematical model posting figures if mitigation measures are placed swiftly to avoid catastrophic outcomes. Even so, the spread in the US — which has crossed all countries to host most cases of Covid-19 — is already disastrous. Going by their mathematical models, South Korea and Germany, and even China, have flattened their transmission curves. But even with such mathematical predictions, a lockdown was only the beginning of our efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19. ICMR suggests that a lockdown needs to be combined with enhanced test-and-quarantine measures. Closed-room discussions of PM's high-level technical committee may go for identification of hotspots and subject these to continued lockdown while allowing the rest of the country to resume business albeit with restrictions. But a call for lifting lockdown from all places barring the hotspots would require extra assurance from the data in the next ten days. The fact that the government mobilised all state police into tracing all attendees of Tablighi Jamaat across the nation helps build confidence in the proper identification of hotspots. Even before the Nizamuddin incident, the Centre had ensured that it knows all sources of infection and the possible spread that may have occurred. This allowed the government to be confident in repeatedly stating that India had not reported any instance of community transmission. But cases rose drastically following the Markaz incident.

With 11 days to go till the lockdown is in place, India has to step up the identification of these hotspots. Narrowing down cases and ensuring home quarantine of those infected through its "geo-fencing" app would help keep the virus from spreading. The biggest risk is the second-wave of the spread that may come after the lockdown ends. While the next 7 days will be crucial in analysing the rise in terms of numbers and areas infected, India can also take note of how post-lockdown atmosphere goes by when China lifts a 2-month lockdown from Wuhan on April 8. The option to extend the lockdown is a worst-case scenario that India will try to avoid in all likelihood given the economic cost it has to bear. But at the same time, India can certainly not risk public health over economic concerns. While a national lockdown was imposed hastily, jeopardising the unorganised sector, the Centre has done well to ensure smooth supply chains as well as the preparedness of its inadequate health infrastructure in the meantime. It must now deliberate on an inevitable exit strategy.

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