Hobson’s choice: The lockdown may have been necessary. But managing its side effects is a herculean task

Hobson’s choice: The lockdown may have been necessary. But managing its side effects is a herculean task

War metaphors are misleading for India’s current situation: It’s in a state of lockdown that is more broad spectrum than is seen even at wartime. Railways, air traffic, interstate buses have been suspended. Most manufacturing, retail and service activity has been shuttered. Prime Minister Narendra Modi indicated how Covid-19 has forced this Hobson’s choice on us: Globally, it took 67 days for the infected tally to reach a lakh but the next lakh took 11 days and the third lakh just 4 days. Trying to break the chain of virus transmission with a nationwide lockdown is the only option for India, given the shabby health infrastructure available to its vast population.

With the spread of Covid-19 picking up pace, India is standing on the edge of a precipice. ‘Flattening the curve’ will give time for governments to ramp up infrastructure to manage dramatically increased patient load. Consider how delay in locking down has overwhelmed even advanced healthcare systems like Italy. On top of this, if community transmission takes hold, the social distancing deterrent will be impossible in most of India’s congested neighbourhoods.

But even if excellently administered, a long nationwide lockdown will extract an enormous toll. In that sense, it is a nuclear option. With the economy already hobbled by a slowdown, the lockdown could trigger a full-blown recession. If you thought demonetisation was bad, this could be a monumentally bigger blow to the informal sector as well as formal enterprise than demonetisation ever was. And to assuage people’s difficulties, the government must quickly come up with an economic package that is, in some ways, the inverse of demonetisation: It must put money in people’s hands. President Donald Trump correctly says that we cannot let the cure be worse than the disease itself.

Governments must work hard and smart at both demand and supply ends. Without smooth flow of essential goods and services, everyday life will go into a tailspin. Other diseases will take root. In this context developments like regulatory stoppages of e-grocers and freight trucks and police excesses in dealing with foundering citizens are alarming. Telangana CM K Chandrashekar Rao has gone so far as to suggest shoot-at-sight orders. Authorities interpreting the 21 day ‘lakshman rekha’ literally is barbaric and counterproductive. Do remember that a sound economic chain and access to food are also health issues. The coming days are about safeguarding our future, not imprisoning us.

This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.

via Hobson’s choice: The lockdown may have been necessary. But managing its side effects is a herculean task

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s