The new nor­mal is here

Ac­tiv­ity is re­sum­ing just as cases are surg­ing. Be care­ful

Hindustan Times (Jalandhar) - - COMMENT -

T he fourth phase of the lock­down, an­nounced by the gov­ern­ment on Sun­day, rep­re­sents a de­par­ture from the past three phases. While re­lax­ations were grad­u­ally in­tro­duced in each phase, In­dia is now sub­stan­tially open­ing up. In­ter-state travel is al­lowed; mar­kets — ex­clud­ing malls — will re­sume busi­ness; there will be more ve­hic­u­lar move­ment, in­clud­ing of taxi ag­gre­ga­tors; more peo­ple will now go back to of­fices; and the ev­ery­day rhythm of life, in­ter­rupted since March 25, will be re­stored to some ex­tent. States have been given the au­thor­ity to de­mar­cate red, or­ange and green zones, and will have more lib­erty in de­ter­min­ing the ex­tent of ac­tiv­ity per­mit­ted in them. To be sure, there will be strict con­trol in con­tain­ment zones, but the big pic­ture in lock­down 4.0 is of an In­dia get­ting back on its feet.

Here is the para­dox. In­dia is open­ing up on the very day that it neared 100,000 pos­i­tive cases. Delhi has crossed 10,000 cases, the fourth state to have hit the num­ber af­ter Ma­ha­rash­tra, Tamil Nadu and Gu­jarat. In the last fort­night, the coron­avirus disease also hit 180 ad­di­tional dis­tricts, tak­ing the to­tal af­fected dis­tricts to over 550. Bi­har, Jhark­hand, West Ben­gal, Odisha, Mad­hya Pradesh, Ra­jasthan and Ut­tar Pradesh wit­nessed the sharpest in­crease in the num­ber of dis­tricts — which is pri­mar­ily be­ing at­trib­uted to the re­turn of mi­grant work­ers home, who are now test­ing pos­i­tive. This is the case at a time when most mi­grant work­ers have not yet re­turned home, or been tested. So with more re­lax­ations and travel, ex­pect a fur­ther spike in num­bers.

Re­mem­ber that In­dia im­posed the lock­down when there were just a lit­tle less than 500 cases. It is open­ing up when there is a clear surge. The lock­down, as this news­pa­per has ar­gued, was yield­ing di­min­ish­ing re­turns on the health front and was caus­ing eco­nomic dev­as­ta­tion of an un­prece­dented scale. The re­lax­ations are, there­fore, le­git­i­mate. This pe­riod has also been used to ramp up health in­fras­truc­ture to a limited ex­tent — with more ded­i­cated hos­pi­tals, test­ing kits, per­sonal pro­tec­tive equip­ment, the evo­lu­tion of a health pro­to­col around test­ing-trac­ing-iso­la­tion-treat­ment, and con­sis­tent mes­sag­ing on so­cial dis­tanc­ing. In­dia will now have to learn to live with this con­tra­dic­tion — be­tween the ris­ing num­ber of cases and re­lax­ations and re­sump­tion of eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity. Ad­just­ing to this “new nor­mal” will not be easy. Gov­ern­ment sys­tems will come un­der stress. There will be more panic as more and more peo­ple test pos­i­tive. But there is no choice. Cit­i­zens can do their bit by abid­ing by so­cial dis­tanc­ing norms, wear­ing masks and tak­ing pre­cau­tions, while the State must en­sure that gains on the health front are not squan­dered, and the bal­ance be­tween lives and liveli­hoods is man­aged as well as pos­si­ble.

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