What, after the current lock down ends is the biggest question facing the government today. Unfortunately there are neither any definite answers to this question nor any perfect strategies that can be put in place. There will be trade-offs, compromises, adjustments and accommodations for different sectors and segments within the country for various reasons. Expecting a uniform approach for everything or all citizens will be impractical as most solutions will be mutually contradictory to say the least. It would be prudent and mature to accept whatever solution comes ones way as comparisons would only lead to more problems and unnecessary complications for the individual as also the authorities or employers.
The most important thing to understand is that on 22nd day after the lock down the threat of Coronavirus would not have gone for ever. At the best it may have either slowed down or receded a bit. The threat will remain and so please do not write an epitaph for this virus prematurely. In short your civic duties and responsibilities do not end on the day the current lock down ends. Please do not go berserk after the lock down to either paint the town red or throw all caution to the winds. Ideally continue practicing lock down drills barring essential needs to go out for any reason subject to whatever guide lines are issued by the government.
The government on its part will have to ease the restrictions and dilute the lock down in phases based on priorities as per needs of the nation and its citizens. The underlying principle would be to continue practicing social distances as far as possible, ensure staggering of traffic on roads, minimal movement of people, upscaling of services and facilities based on need in phased manner instead of throwing open everything in one instance. It would be important to emphasise on the public to continue to stay at home where possible. One strategy in this regard is described in succeeding paragraphs.
- In view of the Tablighi Jamaat fiasco, it may be prudent to extend the lock down by another two weeks ideally in most areas barring those which have no connection with this event or have had no appreciable spread of Corona. If two weeks is difficult then at least one more week must be considered as the bare minimum. The policy of minimal contact and social distancing in public areas must be in force for at least next four weeks.
- Schools and other educational institutions must remain closed. They should consider advancing the summer vacations and then restart in last week of May instead of early July. Public centric places like malls, theatres, tourist sites, religious places, coaching centres etc. must remain closed for another four weeks. This time could be utilised for maintenance and upkeep of all these places.
- Main markets should be allowed to open on alternate days from 11 AM to 7 PM for next two weeks. Local grocery, vegetable, chemist and essential needs stores should work from morning 7 AM to 4 PM. This staggering of timings will ensure minimal crowding and movement on roads to some extent.
- Road traffic must be restricted and movement patterns of different sections controlled. Public transport should be restarted between 7 AM to 9 PM including taxis, autos and local rickshaws. Private transport should be restricted by bringing in odd-even for next two weeks as a start. Essential services like ambulances, essential supplies and others would have to be given permission to run as per need. Heavy vehicles carrying goods should be allowed movement in municipal limits only from 10 PM to 7 AM. Entry at border could start at 9 PM. Light commercial vehicles for last mile distribution should be allowed from 5 AM to 10 AM and then 2 PM to 6 PM within NCR. Courier agencies will have to restart and should be allowed distribution between 7 AM – 4 PM. Sanitisation of public transport must be ensured including taxis and autos.
- Government must look at opening most industrial establishments where 50% staff could be called for work on a daily basis in rotation in the first two weeks. Work areas must be sanitised on a daily basis and workers given minimum essential safety kits where necessary. Each worker must undergo scanning at factory entry as done at airports on a daily basis. Meanwhile arrangements for bringing in migrant workers in a planned manner in batches could be put in place.
- Train and interstate bus services, on limited basis, should be started after a week from lifting of lock down. These could be ramped up on a weekly basis depending on need and situation after each week.
- Airline and hospitality industry is perhaps the worst hit and would require special handling. These should commence working a week after lifting of lock down but with a caveat of not more than 50% occupancy for first two weeks. Like trains, domestic flights too must start on need basis and then increased gradually. Same logic could be followed for restaurants too with not more than 50% occupancy for first two weeks which can be reviewed later. Resumption of international flights should be considered only after another four weeks subject to situations across the world.
- All government offices must reopen and work on full strength.
- Hospitals must continue to restrict admitting patients and perform only urgent surgeries as being done today but OPD services should be increased. These restrictions must be reviewed on a fortnightly basis to ramp up services.
- Public centric places like malls, theatres, tourist sites, religious places etc. should be last priority and opened based on the environment that prevails after above measures have been put in place. This would mean that earliest these places could be considered for opening is by end of first week of May.
- Finally ban all mass protests, rallies and similar events for next three months.
The above strategy may appear simple but when it has to be put in practice, the authorities will have their work cut out. State governments must ensure that there is no repeat of Tablighi Jamaat or Shaheen Bagh like events in future. Any flouting of restrictions imposed must invite strict and quick action on part of authorities. For everything to return to normal, a minimum period of three to four months will be required subject to national efforts to fight the virus succeeding in all respects. Whenever that happens, one thing that the government and nation must ensure is to honour and recognise all those engaged in fighting the virus in the front lines irrespective of their status and positions in the hierarchy. Let 2020 be the year of Common Indian Citizens who gave their all in the battle to save the nation from this deadly virus.