Will we open up after May 17? Everyone has a view on this. But let’s look at some of the voices that matter. AIIMS Director Randeep Guleria told the media five days ago that the cases might peak in June and after the peak they would go down. He was speaking as a health expert. But there are other considerations at play.
Cabinet ministers seem to be preparing India for an opening earlier rather than later. In the last week, I interviewed both Nitin Gadkari and Hardeep Puri. While Gadkari spoke about learning to live with Covid-19, stressing on the need to take precautions, but added that one should not live in fear either.
Life had to go on and economic activity had to resume, he said. Similarly, Hardeep Puri spoke of the need to restart the economy; our ability to deal with the virus will be affected, he pointed out, as our resources are not unlimited. This seems to be the crux of thinking at the Central government level.
The fact that trains have started running and domestic air travel may also open soon are indicators in this direction. But this is a fight that is not fought alone by the Union government; the states are involved as well. When the PM met the Chief Ministers (their 5th meeting so far), he asked for their views. There is no Yes and No answer to this question and the CMs are well aware of this. Most spoke in favour of extending the lockdown but with much fewer restrictions.
Some like the Punjab CM asked for states to be allowed to determine the red, green and orange zones, while the West Bengal CM, as is her nature on all things, asked for more autonomy as well. The PM has asked all CMs to send in their suggestions by May 15 — and true to his nature, the Delhi CM has asked all citizens to send in their suggestions. Each CM and the PM know all too well that at a time like this, it is better to spread the risk rather than unilaterally take a decision because such are the times that any decision can backfire.
But it is interesting that most CMs who spoke categorically in favour of extending the lockdown were not from the BJP-ruled states. This indicates a consistent messaging being sent down the ranks, with Union ministers and BJP CMs toning down the arguments in favour of a blanket extension and instead, focusing on the need to restart the economy, to change the mindset and learn to live with Covid.
The PM too hinted at this in his address which focused on kickstarting the economy. He, however, didn’t speak about the new rules for lockdown, except stating that he was waiting for the CMs’ feedback. Smart move to make, for when there are no definitive solutions, let everyone bear burden of decision making. But one thing is clear, economy will get priority in Lockdown 4.0. And this seems to be the right decision.
For no one expected that a cure or a vaccine would be discovered during lockdown. The idea of lockdown was to prepare ourselves to live with the virus, to get our messaging right, to get our health systems in order — by setting up more Covid special facilities, to ensure the availability of masks and PPE kits. Basically, to get everyone ready for the long fight ahead. And once that is done, open up and start living again.