Fourth PM-CM video conference
Fourth PM-CM video conference

There is to be no country-wide relaxation in the lockdown once the current extended period ends on May 3. This much became clear after the Prime Minister held his 4th video-conference with the Chief Ministers on Monday. Most likely, each State would decide its own next course of action depending on the spread of the coronavirus, number of patients in hospitals and under home-isolation, etc. The Prime Minister once again stressed how the lockdown had helped save thousands of lives. Given that quarantine and social-isolation is the first prescription for containing the virus, respective CMs will determine whether to relax the lockdown or to continue with it with or without a few changes.

Surprisingly, at today’s meeting the States with relatively few cases of death and infections, namely, Odisha, Goa and Meghalaya pressed for the extension. Maybe the real reason behind the demand was the fear that opening up would allow people from other States to rush in and thus cause a spurt in the coronavirus cases. A few other points of unanimity emerged from the meeting. One, schools and colleges across the country are likely to remain closed in the foreseeable future. Most likely, these may reopen at the end of the traditional summer holidays in mid-July. Two, private vehicles could be allowed to ply with certain restrictions, say, odd-even movement on alternate days of the week. Three, there is to be no early resumption of the rail, air and road transport. The idea is to keep the movement of people restricted as far as possible.

Modi pointedly referred to the economic stress, suggesting that sectors not directly impinging on public health ought to be allowed to reopen. What it may translate into in reality is that red zones which are in the grip of the virus might remain completely shut while orange zones with decreasing number of cases could see a selective resumption of economic activity and the green zones entirely free from the corona virus cases could be allowed to return to normal. These decisions are for respective CMs to take before May 3. It was learnt that 80 per cent of the mandis across the country were open now with people able to sell vegetables and fruits. Procurement of wheat and other rabi crops too was proceeding apace with due precautions. Meanwhile, Maharashtra with over 8,000 cases and 342 deaths till Monday morning was the worst affected State, followed by Gujarat with 3301 cases and 151 fatalities. The Union Territory of Delhi was the third most affected with nearly 3,000 cases and 54 deaths. Meanwhile, the Indian Council of Medical Research has asked the States to stop carrying out rapid antibody blood tests since the testing kits supplied by the Chinese companies were found to be faulty. The ICMR has decided to return them and recover the full payment.

It should be a matter of concern worldwide that despite being the source of the global pandemic, despite having delayed informing the WHO about the first few cases in Wuhan in mid-December last, despite denying permission to WHO and US medical teams to visit Wuhan for them to examine the latest version of the killer virus, China still refuses to mend its ways. In country after country, it has supplied faulty equipment, including ventilators, testing kits, without appreciating that these could jeopardise the lives of the people. Given the stringent controls in every facet of human activity that the Chinese Communist Party exercises, supply of defective medical materials to Spain, France, the UK and the US, India, etc., reflects poorly on the Chinese leadership.

Meanwhile, it is regrettable that the Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan skipped the PM’s video-conference on the ground that he was not scheduled to speak. If all 27-odd CMs insisted on addressing the meeting, it will not only end up rehashing one another’s points but leave them and the PM with precious little time to attend to other important work. As it is, such video-conferences even without every CM speaking tend to be over three to four hours. The objective behind such meetings is to learn from the experience of others, to hear the PM on the overall national state of the pandemic and to consider next steps for action. Speaking at the meeting is not as important to fight the pandemic as it is to participate and cull relevant inputs for action in one’s State. It was nice to know that West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, otherwise programmed to be anti-Centre, did attend the meeting with the PM. Cooperation, and not confrontation, will quell the threat the coronavirus poses to public health.

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