India has awed the world by trying to contain the spread of the novel Coronavirus with its strategic planning. Combating the economic breakdown, which has followed as the aftermath, needs India to gear up to evade it successfully. India needs to recover from the enormous socio-economic cost that it has paid in the whole process. The combat planning should consist of boosting up health facilities, relaxing the flow of essential supplies, form a means of exit, which includes a high-octane package for the people and the economy to get up and run.
On March 24, 2020, PM Narendra Modi took a historic decision of a country-wide lockdown, bringing the wheels of the overall economy to a standstill. This announcement to the nation has been first of its kind since the Independence. India fought four wars, during which except the night black-outs and curfew of people, both the people as well as the movement of essential goods and services had never stopped. People went through their routine lives without any hindrance. Public assembly though curbed severely; goods transportation went on smoothly even during the years of Emergency – 1975-1977. But the nation-wide lockdown decision curtailed not only the general movement but also brought a grinding halt to the eternally functioning industries. Not a single soul had to be on the roads, workplaces, factories, industries, tourist places, and so on from midnight March 25, 2020. China, the forebearer of this deadly Coronavirus, which further caused the disease called COVID – 19, was not able to even think of, leave alone implementing, such a firm resolution.
The process behind ‘the decision.’
Modi and his team had no experience of handling such a situation, nor did they have any past similar references to fall back on. A trepidation of any such rule enforced all of a sudden, would not only need the full support of the nation but can also jeopardize their ruling at the center. It could have left ‘Team Modi,’ with a lifelong blemish on their names. After a lot of turmoil, two of the acts, namely the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, and the Disaster Management Act, 2005, were studied. The provisions of the former law only restricted entry of individuals at ports and were implemented to tackle the bubonic plague in Mumbai. The latter gave the right to Modi, a chairperson of the National Disaster Management Authority, to enforce a nation-wide lockdown allowing the movement of only vital products. Therefore, the decision for a complete lockdown by the PM.
The Big Reveal
China finally disclosed to the world on January 7, 2020, that it has identified the spread of a deadly virus in its districts of Wuhan and Hubei, infecting more than 81,000 people resulting in more than 3300 deaths.
This big breaking news from China spread around the globe as fast as the virus itself. It soon became a pandemic. As an immediate measure, all the international passengers, especially those flying in from China, underwent a thorough screening at key airports by Indian Civil Aviation and the Health Departments. After much deliberation, the PMO had a review meeting on January 25, 2020. A step-wise plan had thus to be designed, to contain the spread of the virus. Also, thinking about the anticipated economic repercussions. Thus, it began India’s path-breaking journey to evade not only the Coronavirus but also the breakdown after that.
After the meeting at PMO, on January 25, orders were issued to increase the screenings at ‘all’ the airports progressively, looping in all the state health ministries, the National Institute of Virology and all the laboratories in the country to equip themselves of the necessary instruments to conduct the virus test.
On February 3, an empowered group of ministers from the External Affairs, Home, Civil Aviation, and shipping ministries was constituted by PM Modi. Dr. Harsh Vardhan, the Union Minister for Health, headed this highly authorized group. They were asked by Modi to prepare for any situation or decision coming their way. By now, three cases of COVID- 19 reported in India.
After that comes the ‘Morbid March,’ and with it comes an announcement by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on March 11. COVID – 19 was declared a pandemic after the worldwide number of cases in 114 countries crossed 118,000, and the number of deaths rose to 4,291. In comparison to the viral outbreak in European nations, Southeast Asia, South Korea, and the US, India had reported as low as 57 numbers of cases with the death of one. However, Modi had not to be sanguine even in a relatively safe situation. India had now entered the ‘second’ out of the four stages of an epidemic where the first foreign travelers returned home had begun a local transmission of the disease.
However, stage three of the epidemic is the most feared, as the virus spreads through community transmission, which leads to an augmented increase in the number of cases. This spread of the disease further leads to the fourth stage, where large groups of people are infected, turning it into an epidemic.
- Modi and his team were well-aware of the ill-equipped hospitals with scanty ICU units, lack of enough space and beds to treat hundreds or worst thousands of infected people, ill-equipped labs, very few ventilators, and very less number of doctors and staff. They had the example of Maharashtra, who had reported the highest number of cases while being equipped with only 2,500 ICU units.
- With no vaccine nor its invention shortly, the only way to stop the spread of the virus was through ‘social distancing’ and quarantining of infected people to prevent further transmission.
- Team Modi debated on a partial lockdown and thus imposed a ‘Janta Curfew’ on March 19. By the 75 districts had reported the cases and were locked down as the two provinces of China. But soon, the number of areas under lockdown escalated to 548, almost three-fourth of the total of 720 districts of the country.
- It was now time for the PM to make the most crucial decision. Thus a 21-day lockdown was imposed throughout the country from March 25. In all its severity, the lockdown almost immediately stopped the whole country. There was no leniency to allow unrestricted movement anywhere. There was a quick close down of the public means of transport, schools, offices, factories, industries, malls, multiplexes, fruit and vegetable vendors, and even shops. People had to choose between ‘Life’ and ‘Livelihood.’ People chose ‘Life’ and fully supported the lockdown.
The consequences and economic breakdown
Beyond the center’s anticipation, rumors of a three-month lockdown and the non-payment of wages by the employers created a panic among the workers and unskilled laborers. Almost half a million workers started migrating to their native land, walking hundreds of kilometers due to the lack of public transport. Migration from cities to towns and villages would aggravate this problem of transmission of the virus in rural areas. Nobel Laureate Abhijit Banerjee also expressed his concern, stating that, with the weak rural health infrastructure and the lack of investment of funds in the rural economy, which are earned in the cities by these workers would further create substantial stumbling blocks.
Nirmala Sitharaman, our Finance Minister, in lieu of the lockdown, announced a few immediate measures to quench the anxiety of the nation.
- Severely impacted workers, along with the farmers, would be provided with an additional 5 Kg of wheat and rice and 1 Kg of pulses doubling the already entitled quota for the next three months.
- Women with their accounts in Jan-Dhan Yojana will be paid Rs.500 per month for the next three months.
- Farmers who were entitled to be paid Rs. 6,000 annually under PM-Kisan Yojana would be paid Rs.2,000 promptly in April.
- Furthermore, for small and medium scale industries, she announced a suspension of loan mortgages and direct/indirect taxes till June 30.
The Reserve Bank of India also put forth some immediate relievers like cutting the interest rates and alleviating cash reserve ratio to enable more liquidity in the economy.
Meanwhile, a new crisis surfaced – The stranding of many trucks carrying fruits and vegetables on highways and checkpoints. The police exercised more than required strict action in the pursuit of implementing lockdown orders despite a clear indication as to the partial movement of fast-moving essential goods.
Effective Crisis Management
Gauging the situation, Modi felt a need for effective crisis management. On March 29, he constituted 11 empowered groups with officials from various ministries. They took over the situation and saw that no untoward events arose, and the lockdown remained effectual with minimal disruptions.
These groups focused on areas like supply chain and logistics, proper medical facilities with preventive measures to contain the virus and plan an appropriate plan of exit of the lockdown to boost the economy.
These group members have transformed the method of handling the crisis, exhibiting confidence, and agility. They have been consistently in touch and control via video conferencing, phones, and social media platforms and have taken charge of the situation in an excellent manner.
An Inspiring Combat Strategy
Though India is getting a grip over the situation, it has a long way to go to evade the COVID- 19 from the country.
The government has now focussed on raising the health care facilities to face any challenges. No expense is spared for ordering and also to manufacture Personal Protection Equipments (PPE), ventilators, virus test kits, setting up temporary hospitals with ICU units, and availing medical staff. The order has been placed for more than 45,000 ventilators and 3,00,000 PPEs while manufacturing the rest on ASAP basis.
After personal safety, the focus now being on revving up the economy. The economic breakdown also has to be combated with aggression. With poor CRISIL ratings, slashing the country’s GDP to 3.5% for the year 2020, and the shortage of tools for RBI to provide any effective measures unlike the finance ministry, the nation hopefully looks up at PM Modi to come out with a generous economic package.
Presently, packages for revising the economy, announced in the US and the European countries, are being reviewed. A restorative bailout package is anticipated, including loans and tax breaks for the companies and individuals, relief in significant expenses like education, consumer products, housing, insurance, and overall ease in the liquidity for enhancing the flow of money in the economy.
April 02, saw another round of consultation of the PM and the state chief ministers. The agenda being, the ways, and means to lift the lockdown. Details regarding the phase-wise removal of the lockdown are being worked. Also, consider the lifting up of the lockdown, either partially or in totality.
Constant close monitoring of the situation by the PM has assured the nation that it is in safe hands. So stay indoors and stay protected. Come on India, let’s combat the breakdown with valor and evade the virus both from our lives and our Alma mater!
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