Slowly but certainly the authorities are veering round to the view that reopening the economy might be unavoidable despite the war against the coronavirus pandemic far from being won. This is welcome.
The transmission of the virus has slowed down but it still has a lot of misery to spread before it can be vanished from the land. Admittedly, following the earlier relaxation, the number of daily infections has steadily increased. This is not surprising. On Saturday, when the latest steps to unlock the country were announced about 8,000 new cases were registered. This in no way is to suggest that there should not be a reopening of the economy. No, far from it. But the government has failed to increase the daily tracking and testing which it was expected to do at the start of the first phase of the lockdown on March 25th itself. While countries like the UK were able to increase the daily testing from a few thousand at the beginning of the pandemic to over one lakh daily, we seem unable to go beyond 2,500–2,700 tests a day. Neglect of healthcare infrastructure from the early years of the Republic to the present times when the total outlay for the sector both by the Centre and the States is only about 1.5 percent of the GDP is there for all to see. In sharp contrast, despite earmarking about 20 percent of the GDP for healthcare, in the US it is found to be inadequate to provide every American assured medical-care. Hopefully, politicians of all hues and stripes would draw the right lessons from the pandemic. Meanwhile, after 65 days of the national lockdown the Centre on announced further relaxations, leaving the final decision to state and UT governments to tweak the guidelines as per the actual situation in their respective jurisdictions. That may be why Mumbai, the virtual epicentre of the pandemic with several times more infections and deaths than any other metropolis in the country, has wisely decided not to go all out for unlocking from June 8 when most restrictions outside the containment zones for coronavirus are slated to be lifted. But even Mumbai has announced reopening of shops and markets on alternate days. Mumbai, in particular, and Maharashtra, in general, are the worst hit by the pandemic, exposing the huge chinks in the health system even in the financial capital of India with all its state-of-the-art hospitals in the private sector. Delhi is another city which has a very high number of infections and deaths. And despite the country’s premier All India Institute of Medical Sciences and a couple of other central government-run public hospitals, its medical facilities too have been found wanting. Without doubt, the war against the pandemic ought to be above partisan political battles.
It is a national calamity. And the more the Centre and the States cooperate, the better will be the outcome in overcoming this challenge.