While the number of Corona cases is on the rise, the lockdown measures are being withdrawn. It may look like a contradiction in terms but it is necessary. The economic activity which came to a standstill because of the lockdown has to be resumed as a country of India’s modest resources and huge population burden cannot afford a shutdown for long.
In fact the lockdown was done without planning and forethought. It was a knee-jerk reaction to a grim situation to which the government awoke late.
Perhaps it was thought that a sudden action will make up for the time lost. In the hurry the government did not think of the implications of its decision which resulted in mass exodus of workers from cities to their native places. The decision taken in a hurry has resulted in a mess and it will take a long time to clear the mess and restore the economy to pre-lockdown stage.
Reports in media say that senior bureaucrats involved in the fight against Corona have privately admitted that lockdown has been unsuccessful because it was unplanned. Perhaps we went for it aping the rich western countries and other high per capita income countries like South Korea, Israel and Australia.
Little did we realise that unlike these countries, a small two-bed room house to stay at home is still a dream for more than half of our population. Then with no dole or social security there was no way more than 200 million of our daily wage earners could sustain themselves without work.
The lockdown decision fact betrayed a middle class mindset. Perhaps it was thought that like in the Developed World every family has a flat to live and a job to do with a regular monthly income. But the reality was different and those who could have sensitised the decision-makers about it were never consulted.
If not lockdown what should have government done at that stage in March end? I thought of a 10-point plan which I shared with my son who suggested that I send it to PMO.I told him what to say of PMO no one will be willing to listen at the moment . Now since I think people may be willing to listen I would like to enlist these measures point by point. Even now when Corona cases are showing a steep rise we should implement some of these measures to fight the disease and contain its spread
1. A well thought out and highly creative multidimensional media campaign to be especially addressed to uneducated and semi literate low income classes and rural audiences. The campaign can be dovetailed to mythological, cultural history or tradition to enhance its appeal. The campaign can even be in the form of a short TV serial which is educative, entertaining and enlightening. But its message should not create fear psychosis.
2. Free supply of masks and hand gloves to all on demand.
3. Removal of all taxes on sanitisers and detergents. Encouragement and award for inventing low cost methods for making sanitisers.
4. Distribution of free sachets of sanitiser among those who cannot afford it.
5. Removal of all taxes on supporting drugs and food supplements whose intake is necessary to raise immunity level of people.
6. Massive cleanliness campaign all over the country on a war footing. Ensuring a well organised waste collection, waste disposal and waste recycling system in all cities and small towns.
7. Health insurance cover for all. A fraction of the amount may be deducted as insurance premium from the money being transferred to the poor and displaced workers. While providing health cover this will also create a lot of job opportunities for our educated unemployed youth.
8. All around augmentation of medical facilities. One small common sense thing would be to allow private medical practitioners to add a three to four bed facility to their clinic for in house patients.
9. Encouragement and financial support for research in systems of alternative medicine. There are reports that Ashwagandha, a time tested ayurvedic herb is effective in controlling Corona. Giloy, another ayurvedic herb is a great immunity booster and can help contain Corona.
10. A short term certificate course of two to three months in basic health care for young boys and girls with school level education. After the short course they can be inducted as primary health workers to help patients at home and in hospitals.
To those who will say that implementation of these suggestions will involve big expenditure I must tell that the money we lost in the lockdown for two days will be more than sufficient to finance all these measures.
There can be many more such suggestions from different quarters once we come out of the hibernation caused by a paranoid fear psychosis and start think of ways to tackle a problem that has come to stay. The problem is that we are fighting two enemies at the same time corona and fear. Another thing is that those in authority should be willing to listen and learn. If they think they are the repository of all the wisdom in the world nothing will change.
Prof. Pradeep Mathur , Delhi
The author, a veteran journalist and a former Professor at IIMC, New Delhi, is editor of Mediamap, a monthly thought journal on current affairs.
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