The number of coronavirus cases in the country is rapidly rising. Odisha and Punjab have announced the extension of the lockdown till month-end ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s virtual meeting with Chief Ministers today. Yet, a blanket extension of the national lockdown will have severe implications on the economy.
There are practical issues with enforcing a complete lockdown in a country as large as India, which would be bigger than many countries in Europe put together.
It is important to mark out the cities and districts which have seen a huge number of coronavirus cases. Let’s take the example of Maharashtra. Of the 1,500 plus cases reported in the state, more than 800 are in Mumbai and 200 in Pune. It is imperative to continue with the lockdown at these places to flatten the curve but the authorities simultaneously need to identify the districts which have remained unaffected by the virus. The government and the local administration need to analyze if there is any merit in continuing with the lockdown at these places.
Let us move to the seven North-Eastern states. Barring Assam, which has reported over 25 cases, other states such as Manipur, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, and Mizoram have reported cases in single digits; there have been no fresh cases in the last many days. Nagaland and Meghalaya have remained COVID-19 free. So, the billion-dollar question: is there any merit in imposing lockdown in that part of the country?
Despite a surge in the number of COVID-19 cases in India, the number of districts with very little COVID-19 incidence is, thankfully, very large.
Why can’t the government allow somewhat normal activities for residents there? Yes, it is important to ensure that interstate movement is strictly regulated so that the virus cannot be carried into these states.
The economic implications of lockdown extension will be alarming. We need to keep that in mind. The government must start proactively allowing factories and manufacturing units, located in places which have not been impacted by the virus to start operation from April 15.
After all, many manufacturing units producing medicines and other daily essential items are operational after taking the required precautionary measures despite the outbreak of the virus. If that is the case, why should other factories not operate? It is a question of livelihood for millions.
Also, the severity of the lockdown varies from city to city. In Kolkata, markets, including sweet shops, are operational, albeit for a limited period of time.
No other country as big as India has imposed a national lockdown. Yes, there are countries such as Singapore, UK, and Italy, which have imposed a lockdown. But these countries are much smaller in size and it is easy to impose national lockdown. The US, one of the worst impacted countries, has not imposed any national lockdown for economic reasons.
India must look at opening up districts which have remained unaffected by the spread of the virus, allow factories, and manufacturing units to operate as normally as possible without lowering the guard while taking stringent measures to ensure that the safety of those working in these units is not compromised..