CM Uddhav Thackeray, strive to protect Lives and Livelihoods as well…

ST Special Editorial
Monday, 13 April 2020

On this backdrop, the State Government and the Chief Minister should strike a golden median so that the economy keeps moving.

The country is under the coronavirus lockdown for almost three weeks. When the lockdown was in its last leg, the Maharashtra State Government decided to extend it furthermore. Actually, this is the right time to think about the welfare of the State. Locking entire Maharashtra further would severely have an adverse effect.

No doubt people’s lives must be protected and saved, but at the same time, the means of living too needs to be cared for. The lockdown for a longer duration might destroy the businesses, in turn posing a severe crisis.

On this backdrop, the State Government and the Chief Minister should strike a golden median so that the economy keeps moving.

While announcing to extend the lockdown, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray made it clear that the government has been giving a thought to sectors those could be excluded from being locked-down; this has been a welcome gesture. But, while favouring those who are arduously wishing for a complete lockdown, the question remains of the economy of the regions where COVID-19 related situation is under control, or the regions which have less unaffected.

Uddhav-ji, therefore, it’s time to put a full stop to this charade of giving signals and people drawing inferences out of them. There should be clarity about which sectors will remain open and which others will remain shut. Businesses which can be commenced by following the safety measures should be allowed. 

A World Health Origination (WHO) expert Del Fisher too has made it clear that lockdown helps to arrest the speed of spread of the virus but it doesn’t completely stop the spread. Countries like Singapore while going for measures like lockdown ensured that the manufacturing units and other businesses are not shut. Several other countries too, have found the golden median. It’s not something that Maharashtra, for that matter the entire, would find impossible to achieve. 

Defeating coronavirus by using only one particular measure is no less than an illusion. We need to fight this battle on various fronts. Putting down the weapons would not be a wise move. Sealing regions like Mumbai and Pune where the spread is on a larger scale can be understood, but sealing and creating a fear psychosis in and disturbing economy of other majority areas where the spread of the virus is under control is meaningless.

The majority of the states are in favour of extending the lockdown, even the Centre, too, thinks on the same lines. Although it is very easy way-out for the rulers, it will push several businesses into bankruptcy and financial crisis and would jeopardise employment. Are we inviting such a crisis? We need to give a thought to these issues. Considering the pandemic, no one would stress for complete normalcy, but keep everything remaining locked is illogical. Removing fear from the mind of people by assuring them also is a way to fight against coronavirus and rulers should be doing this.

Reducing person-to-person communication during the epidemic is understood. It’s also true that social distancing and lockdown are the measures to achieve this. Still, after experiencing such a lockdown for two weeks, we need to ensure that the people do not starve while stopping the spread of the virus. While we have reached such a situation, now, Uddhav-ji, it’s your responsibility as the CM to find a golden median. 

Extending the lockdown is like going with popular decisions.

It is important to take an all-inclusive decision which would be applicable for a longer period going by way of scientific research. Many across the world are deliberating over whether human lives or the economy. Human lives are priceless, no doubts about it. Everything possible must be done to protect human lives, but what about the economic crisis that follows? The fear of the virus is so much among the minds of the people that if you tell them to follow lockdown for one more month, they will do that. But will it end the catastrophe for eternity? And would this lockdown which is destroying the economy, not again affect the human lives?

According to available information, there is no research regarding the virus, which shows that the pandemic ends after two-three months and does not resurface. Many experts say that the virus can re-emerge for 18 months. On Friday, South Korea reported 91 cases of relapse among patients who had recovered weeks back. Alarmingly, an infectious disease expert, also was quoted saying that “91 is just the beginning”.

Therefore even if the entire nation is locked down for three months as a last resort, that does not guarantee the end of the virus.

Lockdowns are successful if they lower the speed of spread of the coronavirus and provide enough time to the medical fraternity. Therefore various countries in the world have ensured that businesses are not entirely shut during the lockdown. The question here is not to prioritise either containing the spreading virus or to save human lives or to protect businesses. Thinking on these lines is like deceiving self. During the lockdown, it must be ensured that agriculture, as well as business houses and the service industry, are not affected. We need to look at lockdown from this angle after 21 days.

Coronavirus, inevitably, will be affecting every sector. Numerous studies and reports are being published elaborating on near-future scenarios. Most of these are unanimous on losses owing to shutting down businesses and industries. This is just one part of the economic crisis. But once these systems are shut, it would be challenging to revive them. Government packages alone are not enough to revive the manufacturing industry, allied service chains, availability of the labourers. 

Does one expect that the Chief Minister realises all these aspects while extending the lockdown?

There is a general feeling among the public that lockdown is the only way to take care of the people of the State. And it is finding firm roots due to cacophony in the media. But many are ignoring the financial losses it carries. The rate of unemployment rose three-folds within a week after lockdown, and it went up four folds in urban areas. Reduction in manufacturing activities and consumption of products is the sign of economic crisis. Except for essential services, the lockdown has stopped all the manufacturing and distribution activities.

Paying full salaries and not offering pink slips look difficult to get translated into action on the ground level just because the government wants it to happen; for it defies the economic cycle. The issue of migrating labours cropped up almost immediately after lockdown. The question is not confined to their employment. A study shows that study if 13 human days of so many people are wasted, the country incurs losses to the tune of INR 17,000 crore, which is seven per cent of the GDP. If 27 days are wasted the losses are INR 29,000 crore. The numbers themselves explain the impending economic disaster. Maharashtra too has incurred losses to the tune of INR 35,000 crore. Many municipal corporations are unable to collect revenue enough to pay their employees.

With extending lockdown, the situation would become more complicated. Former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan already has said that lockdown is not enough. After three weeks now, we need to find ways out. Everyone fighting the virus is confused about how to end the lockdown.

A few countries have found ways out. Germany is one of them. While fighting the virus, Germany has ensured that peoples’ daily routines are not disturbed. While easing the bans, Germany has ensured that people wear masks while moving out of homes. No large congregation of people are permitted, large events are banned while keeping the economy going.

Germany has become a role model in Europe for having stressing on the medical tests for the virus. We can think of such a model for ourselves. Sweden while banning assemblages of more than 50 persons at a time is ensuring that norms of social distancing are adhered to. Making masks compulsory, Austria, too, has decided not to go complete lockdown way.

Singapore has shown that with a few restrictions, schools and other businesses can be kept functional. South Korea, too, has successfully controlled the situation after the initial outbreak.

The fear created by the fact that there is no antidote available for coronavirus is understandable. Yet, the mortality rate across the world is not more than three to five per cent. The mathematical models which showed that the pandemic would create havoc in India too have not proved correct. We have achieved success in keeping the number of cases and deaths under control. It is now an established fact that more than 85 to 90 per cent of the positive patients are getting cured without much medication. The number of deaths caused by pneumonia, road accidents or tuberculosis in our country is much more compared to coronavirus. 

Under such a situation, even one accepts the need to take every care; the lockdowns are needed to be given another thought. Indeed, it is not easy to end the lockdown completely, but one has to look at phasing it off. It’s not beyond possibilities for the Centre and the State government to come together and find alternatives. The hotspots in the country are well-identified in the past two weeks. These can be quarantined. Sealing these parts for some time also is understood.

But over half of the districts in the country have not a single positive case. Even in Maharashtra except for parts of Mumbai and Pune, there are not many regions that have shown a greater number of positive cases. All these districts have been sealed, and the movement has been restricted. Now the question is whether to have a complete lockdown or whether to open certain regions and re-opening businesses there and seal only the hotspots? This is a test of State Government’s prudence. 

By having complete lockdown, we can pretend to save the lives of people, but it would devastate their future. Therefore, this is the time for you, Uddhav-ji, to come out of worrying-too-much mode. Routines can be restored, except in certain areas, with careful and thorough thought. Now there is awareness among people. Efforts can be made that social distancing will be followed in letter and spirit. It’s not very difficult to follow these norms at workplaces.

To mitigate the financial crisis in the nearest future, we need to find a middle path. Is our CM Uddhav Thackeray ready for it? Who else other than Maharashtra can take such a bold step? Otherwise, there is a long queue of chief ministers urging to extend lockdown. Will the Maharashtra Chief Minister carry forward the legacy of the State to think and act ‘differently’ or will become just one among the others?

Uddhav-ji, Maharashtra is waiting for the stand you are going to take. While extending the lockdown, the administration should also declare a road map to bring back the manufacturing and other businesses on line? Lives and Livelihood both need to be protected; will you take this brave decision?

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