As India remains a week away from its scheduled exit from the 21-day national lockdown imposed due to the spread of COVID-19 outbreak, there have been wide-ranging discussions doing the rounds in government circles on what India’s strategy for such an exit scenario should look like.
These discussions follow Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent virtual interactions with different state Chief Ministers where he not only took stock of the Covid-19 situation across all states and union territories but also asked suggestions from his Council of Ministers on how India should start planning for a phased lockdown exit. He further urged his ministers to initiate work on preparing business continuity plans that will seek to address the economic crisis in the country, fueled by suspension of economic activity during the lockdown.
It is unsurprising then that all the eleven empowered groups on Covid-19 formed by the central government have favored exiting the lockdown in a calibrated manner beginning April 14. However, the government remains firm that a final decision on the manner in which lockdown should be phased out now hinges on the data to be provided by Indian Council of Medical Research and National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).
Out of the numerous suggestions doing the rounds about India’s lockdown exit strategy is a proposal to divide the country into three zones – green, yellow and red – depending upon exposure risk to the disease. The green zone, which is the safest, could be the first to be opened up to most of the core economic activity while in the yellow zone, economic and industrial production could start at a small scale; and the red zone, or areas significantly impacted by Covid-19, should continue to be in lockdown for more time.
A second approach being considered traces its roots from India’s experience from the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic. Drawing inspiration and experience from that outbreak, the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has drawn a plan outlining how regions- cities, villages or neighbourhoods with large outbreaks or multiple clusters of Covid-19 could be walled in, charting out what may be the first official roadmap to keep the disease in check, by focusing on curbs and surveillance on such hotspots while other areas return to some degree of normalcy after the lockdown ends.
The ministry report also mentions how this approach had a bigger impact on large cities with dense populations while the rural areas remained relatively free from the pandemic’s grip. The ministry’s plan highlights that the “current geographic distribution of Covid-19 mimics the distribution of H1N1 pandemic influenza. This suggests that while the spread of Covid-19 in our population could be high, it is unlikely that it will be uniformly affecting all parts of the country. This calls for differential approach to different regions of the country, while mounting a strong containment effort in hotspots.”
Another significant proposal being discussed is to have industry-specific Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) which each industry needed to come up with based on the existing conditions in their sectors.