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Vol. XXX No. 2, May 1-15, 2020

Opening Up as Important as Lockdown

By the Editor

The city of Chennai that was Madras has been in an unprecedented state of lockdown since the third week of March. It is of course not alone in this, for the rest of the country, and indeed much of the world is pretty much in the same situation. With the numbers in the city spiking of late, the Government has toed the line when it comes to the Central Government’s directive that the lockdown be extended by two more weeks – to May 17th. This is to the good, at least as far as keeping a check on the spread of the virus is concerned. But what thereafter? Does the State Government have a clear idea on what it wants done? This does not appear to be the case.

That at least is the feeling you get when you consider the so-called partial lifting of the lockdown effective May 4. It may still be early days, but what prevails is a sense of chaos. The police, at least those on the road, have no clue as to what the directives are for this partial opening up. Similarly, the document that was brought out by the Government listing dos and don’ts was vague in the extreme. Numerous types of businesses have been left out altogether. What happens to these? And can they partially reopen or not? What is meant by industrial estates being allowed to open to with “25 per cent workers (a minimum of 20 persons)”? Does it mean the company ought to be employing at least 20 people and so be allowed to open with five people or is it that the 25 per cent itself must mean a minimum of 20 people? When IT and ITES companies are allowed to open with ten per cent staff, has anyone in authority even given thought to whether it is worthwhile running an office for that kind of number, especially in an industry that can work safely from home? In the meanwhile, there is more chaos in the outside world – of shops and establishments.

Many of these assumed they were back in business and people thronged to them. In most places the authorities had to order a closure. Do people need passes to move around? Yes, according to some, no according to others. The portal that is to issue the passes has remained in a state of suspended animation since the morning, with a message that it is still being updated. Is that a euphemism for the site being unable to handle the load of applications? We don’t know for sure. The State would do well to follow the example of Karnataka, where such passes are not required, people need to carry ID cards, that is all. Ultimately, it is best that people discipline themselves.

If this be the scenario now, what will it be after May 17th? For one, a greater number of people on the road will mean more physical contact and therefore greater spread of the virus. Is the Government prepared for that? When the lockdown was initially announced, in end March, it was said that this was to give the Government time to prepare itself for fighting the disease, by way of testing kits, hospital beds and laboratories. Has this been achieved? The reason we ask this question is that it was agreed then that the lockdown was not an end in itself to COVID, preparation was what it was meant for. Now we don’t know if there is a strategy in place post lockdown. Or will we know of that only on May 16th evening?

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