Preparing to coexist
With a viable vaccine almost two years away, learning to coexist while avoiding the virus may well be the only way to restart life after the lockdown
We are well into Lockdown 2.0 and while frustration levels rise and mental health suffers, it is, perhaps, best for us to have acceptability too. People are talking about the first things they will do when the lockdown lifts — visit that favourite restaurant, go on that cancelled vacation, maybe just visit a salon. Well folks, these plans will surely have to wait or metamorphose to keep up with a changing world. According to researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, social/physical distancing may have to continue in the US till 2022, till a vaccine, treatment or critical care infrastructure is upped. India with its populous states would have to definitely consider ongoing social/physical distancing behaviour too.
We will have to accept that life post-lockdown will be quite different. Given the spread of COVID-19 and the unfeasibility of continuing with months of lockdown, government plans of easing the lockdown in safe districts of the country are already underway. States and companies are eager to kickstart the economic engine. Global economic activity has come to a screeching halt and the GDP of all nations is shrinking. India was already in slowdown before the Coronavirus outbreak and in spite of the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) hopeful 1.9 per cent GDP growth, the going is set to be tough for us.
With no economic activity and no consumption, there is a danger of too many mouths going hungry. Governments cannot support the needy or provide sops to the industry forever. In any case, the impact of the Coronavirus outbreak will be felt by micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) the most. It is always the small business owner that suffers the travails of any economic uncertainty. Restarting the economic wheels is unavoidable; what we have to do next is to plan for it.
Our work lives and leisure activities will have to undergo a paradigm shift. We have to learn to co-exist with this virus until the vaccines kick in. Even by optimistic estimates, a vaccine is at least 18-24 months away and we cannot just stop living or working. We will have to adapt our ways to avoid the virus.
Big companies such as Maruti, Panasonic India, and Godrej Appliances have already spoken about ways of ensuring hygienic factories. Mandatory passage through disinfectant tunnels, reduced labour force, usage of masks and gloves, social distancing etc., are being explored as manufacturing hubs in safe zones hope to restart production.
The worrying factor, however, remains the safety and hygiene levels practised in the unorganised sector. The plight of lakhs of migrant labourers forced to stay home or finding their way back home continues to be a problem for most states. This is where the governments must proactively step in. The central directive is in place to use labour from within the state for economic activity in safe districts. Government support for the labour class would be crucial even after factories restart operations. The health ministry has marked 170 districts as COVID-19 hotspots. There will be no economic activity in the red zones and they will continue to be in lockdown. 207 districts with few Coronavirus positive cases have been classified as yellow zones while 359 districts or green zones are safe with no positive cases.
The unfortunate news of a pizza delivery boy having been tested as positive, resulting in 72 families being quarantined, hit the already wiped out industry. Post-lockdown, restaurants and food delivery kitchens will have to adhere to the highest levels of hygiene and sanitation. Dining out and partying may well cease to be attractive with more people preferring to entertain or socialise with intimate groups. Our attire too may change! I know no one is talking much about it but covering up may prove to be a more sensible fashion choice. I foresee fashion lines being developed keeping the Coronavirus in mind. More gloves perhaps and less show of skin.
Innovation and technology will continue to be our best mates as we restart life tentatively. Virtual meetings, work from home, reduced work hours would have to be the way forward for many. And even when we move, we will have to embrace a new way of movement. Maintaining strict physical distancing even while availing public transport. Queues for buses, trains, metros, autorickshaws will have to maintain a safe distance. No more filling up vehicles like sardine cans. Similar measures will have to be followed even while shopping or visiting vegetable and meat markets.
Want to go clubbing? Forget about huddling onto the dance floor moving to the beats of the DJ. Virtual parties hosted online will remain a safer bet. Check into a virtual party with your friends, move to the rhythm, and keep yourself Coronavirus-free. Newer kinds of travel restrictions and checks may be in place once states and nations open borders. Be prepared to carry a doctor's certificate as a clean-chit of good health while applying for a visa. Thermal checks at the airport may become a permanent phenomenon. And of course, we will be washing hands and sanitising everything that we come into contact with. Groceries, packages, couriers — will also be wiped down with virus-killing disinfectants. We will have to accept these new circumstances and mould our ways. Discipline to adhere to safety and hygiene norms will be key.
The writer is an author and media entrepreneur. Views expressed are strictly personal