Extension 4.0 for Maharashtra in general and Mumbai in particular presents a conundrum. Maharashtra is the most important state from the point of view of economic growth being the epicentre of business. It is also the state which has the highest number of infected people with Mumbai topping the list. Clearly there does not appear to be any light at the end of the tunnel. Economic activity has come to a virtual standstill and several jobs have been lost and those units which are still hanging on to paying salaries have to relent at some point of time if business does not resume. Some states have opened up, which is progressive, and the idea is that we have to learn to live with the virus. The state has just not been able to provide sustenance to the people who have lost jobs and the chaos surrounding the migrants issue has been discouraging.
The only logical conclusion that can be drawn is that we have to learn to live with the virus and standard operating practices have to be followed by all entities. Risk of infection remains and its spread cannot be contained but one has to learn to live in a new environment. It is necessary for the government to have a firm plan for the lockdown to end this time so that there is a roadmap which takes business to normal over a period of three months starting June 1st. The following protocol is proposed so that all businesses can get back to work.
First, just like how social distancing and use of soap and handwashes has become a habit, so should the act of disinfection be followed assiduously for every activity undertaken. This will mean having such chemical sprays ready in adequate quantities which can be used across the city so that a basic cleansing is done for every activity that is reopened. If such capacity does not exist, the manufacture of the same should begin in a big way in this interim period of Lockdown 4.0.
Second, to begin with for the first phase, only private vehicles should be permitted on the roads where people are able to commute to work and back. This will open up some room for offices to start working while the basic rules of working from home for the majority still holds with a proportion of 33% being put to begin with especially for factories. Non-compliance should be met with warnings rather than punitive action to ensure that there is no untoward harassment by the authorities.
Third, at the next stage only BEST buses and private buses should be brought in with a capacity restriction so that there can be a check on the number of people travelling. This will have to be planned in advance to make them mostly point to point to avoid needless waiting at bus stops.
Fourth, the hotels and restaurants business should be allowed to reopen with specific norms of how seating can take place and the absence of table service so that human contact is reduced. The standard procedure of disinfection after every customer leaves will be the norm. The timings can be regulated with restaurants going in for reservations to avoid waiting outside.
Fifth, for cinema theatres which are standalone, the seating arrangement can be stated in advance to ensure that there is adequate distance between groups of patrons with the disinfection norms being adhered to across every show. The theatre management can decide on the ticket prices depending on the viability of having limited capacity.
Sixth for malls, entry to shops should follow the waiting line as happens in supermarkets in the west, where people stand in line to enter the outlet. Typically for garments, trials should not be allowed and patrons have to take the chance on the size and fit to begin with. The food courts should follow the same rules as a restaurant and ensure that there is distance between tables which are disinfected before being used. Separate entrances and staircases should be reserved for theatres where only online bookings with tickets on WhatsApp being the norm to begin with. Needless to say there will be no human contact between staff and patrons.
Seventh, all retail standalone shops should be allowed to open irrespective of dealing with essential goods. The idea is that these small service SMEs should have scope to do business and the BMC can draw up a plan to have shops open which can be alternate or with a gap of two shops in a row on specified days. The number of days when they can be open can be twice a week which can be increased gradually depending on how things play out.
Eight, taxis and autos have to carry with them the disinfection sprays for their vehicles that have to be mandatorily used as patrons enter the vehicle. This will involve a cost, but the alternative is not to be allowed to ply. This can be brought in along with the buses so that last mile connectivity is possible.
The use of temperature checks at every point of opening should be a habit and hence every person stepping out for work or recreation has to time oneself to ensure that this is buffered. Spraying of every vehicle or chair or table in offices, buses, autos, theatres etc. would be mandatory before any service is allowed. Depending on the use of such chemicals, washing hands and spraying of persons can be considered after taking advice from medical experts.
All this will require elaborate planning and cost, and while the feasibility can be evaluated by the government, there is need to plan from today so that as and when the city is prepared with these prerequisites, business can be opened up gradually in a calibrated manner. There is a cost for everything and the viability is what the business has to consider. But a start has to be made at some time, and as the consequences of two months of shutdown have been crippling for the economy, we need to think differently.
The writer is chief economist, CARE Ratings. Views are personal.