Updated: April 4, 2020 12:30:46 pm
Nine days into the national coronavirus lockdown, with looming economic distress across sectors, discussions have commenced in the government on the way forward at the end of the 21-day period, including an exit strategy.
Giving a glimpse of one possible option, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told Chief Ministers during a video-conference Thursday that it is “important to formulate a common exit strategy to ensure staggered re-emergence of the population once the lockdown ends”.
He asked the states to brainstorm and send suggestions for the strategy. Within his government, meanwhile, a “limited lockdown” in some areas is an option that seems to be gaining ground, at this point. Read in Malayalam and Tamil
But what forms these “limits” would take depends on a host of factors, the key being the nature of the spread of the virus.
One opinion currently within the government seems to be that while it may not be possible to reach a zero-new-case situation by April 14, the best option would be to focus on specific “pockets” to contain the spread.
“If we can identify pockets like these across the country — there may be several hundred of them — and if I am reasonably satisfied that the rest of the country can go about their business, then these pockets will remain the only ones left with restrictions,” a highly placed government source said.
The added advantage of this approach would be that resources can be concentrated on these areas, with rigorous and foolproof surveillance and follow-up action.
What complicates this, sources said, is a sudden surge like the one over the last few days from the Tablighi Jamaat meeting in Delhi — about 400 cases so far from nine different states have been linked to that gathering.
In an interview to The Indian Express Wednesday, AIIMS director Dr Randeep Guleria, who is a member of the high-level technical committee of Public Health Experts for COVID-19, explained the issues at stake.
“There are two or three questions there. One, how long should the lockdown continue? Two, should it be throughout the country or, three, (should) there be a graded lifting of the lockdown in certain areas? That is dependent on the data that emerges, in terms of the number of cases, hotspots, and areas in our country which are safe, are protected because of the lockdown, and don’t have a significant number of cases,” he had said.
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Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba has denied reports that the lockdown would be extended. But sources said the option of a return to normalcy across the country after April 14 “is on the table but remote”.
“There is little doubt that the virus will not suddenly go into remission at the end of the period. If we are lucky, we would have contained it in some areas, if not, it’s another fight,” said a government functionary. In his meeting with chief ministers, the Prime Minister is learnt to have said that the fight is only just beginning.
The option of extending the lockdown by two weeks has also come up in discussions. “It is an emerging situation, a call has to be taken depending on the situation then, this is not something one can base only on modelling. But medical experts across the board have been advocating a lockdown very strongly. The issue is to see how much the economy can take,” said sources.
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