By imposing early lockdowns and travel no-gos, India has done well, fully aware of its weaknesses: wobbly medical infrastructure, poor rate of testing for Covid-19 (so far), etc. But the shutdowns and cessation of ‘the marketplace’ associated with curfew and necessary social distancing should not become a cure worse than the disease. In this case, literally. The immediate efforts to contain and vanquish the coronavirus pandemic could cause longerterm destruction. Layoffs and business shutdowns, with their domino effect on all aspects of life, could not only cripple populations but countries as well.
What should be done in the time purchased by the lockdown? We have to move on three fronts, apart from the immediate task of swiftly addressing missteps that are making lockdown far worse an experience than it needs to be. Do not shut down warehouses of ecommerce marketplaces or conventional distributors of grocery, medicines, hospital supplies; do not close state borders for vital supplies coming through; fruit, vegetables and other perishable commodities should not spoil, caught in bureaucratic tangles. Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s move to issue e-passes for essential goods delivery must be emulated by other state governments.
For millions of young service sector workers living alone and dependent on food deliveries, the crackdown on these supply chains is painful.
To address these problems calls for little more than common sense. But planning for other challenges is more complex.
Expansion of testing kit production, to enable far more extensive testing, is a priority, as is creation of temporary hospitals out of stadia, convention centres, shut down schools. Alleviating the economic pain is another challenge. Fiscal and financial action must be large and bold to inspire confidence and be effective.
Medium-term action would include swift identification of cures and possible vaccines and urgent strengthening of the healthcare system. Covid-19 will not be the last pandemic.