Down To Earth|May 16, 2020

Countries are taking a leap of faith to return to normalcy and get the economy going. India is desperately trying to follow suit. But can it do so without letting its guard down?

WE HAVE to live with the virus. These words have somewhat become like an anthem in this time of despair. There has not been a day since March 8, when the world, barring a few countries, has not reported record spike in COVID-19 cases. Yet, it has become ingrained in our collective consciousness that we have to live with this novel coronavirus, like over a thousand other pathogens, including hiv, Ebola, cholera and rabies, that are now part of our ecosystem and keep cropping up from time to time (see ‘Bats spread viruses, so do humans’, p38). This mood of resigned acceptance also reflects in the strategies of political leadership across countries, including India.

On May 8, while holding a press briefing, Lav Agarwal, India’s official spokesperson on the COVID-19 crisis, said: “It is important that today when we are talking about relaxation, when we are talking about return of migrant workers, we have a great challenge and we need to understand that we have to learn to live with the virus.” Earlier on May 4, as the Union government extended the nationwide lockdown, dubbed the biggest in world history, to 54 days, Chief Minister of Delhi Arvind Kejriwal also used “living with the virus” as a truism while urging the Union government for dilution of the lockdown rules. With 7,998 cases and 106 deaths as on May 11, Delhi is the third worst affected state in the country.

Looking at states like Kerala, Odisha and even the worst-affected Maharashtra, where activities have been kickstarted to bring the economy back on the rails, it seems we have come to terms with the worst pandemic of the century. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had set the tone for this in his address to the nation as early as on April 14, at the culmination of lockdown 1.0, when he said that “jaan (life)” and “jahaan (economy and livelihood)” both are equally important. By the first week of May, the country was divided into three zones—red, orange and green on the basis of the number of COVID-19 cases—and certain economic activities were allowed depending on the colour code. Though the government has not introduced any codified lockdown exit plan yet, the focus is fast shifting from managing the health emergency to reviving the economy.


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May 16, 2020