Narendra Modi called for a “staggered re-emergence” from the Covid-19
lockdown that’s scheduled to end on April 14. Ahead of a message to the nation on Friday morning, Modi told chief ministers in a video-conference to come up with suggestions for a common “exit strategy” to this end, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a release. This suggests that the government may not seek to extend the lockdown that has shuttered factories and offices, bringing economic activity to a halt.
“The idea is that the entire population should not be out on the streets once the lockdown ends,” a senior government official said. “We cannot go straight from zero to 100% activity. We must slow down the opening up.” An empowered group of officers led by home secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla is working on a strategy that will take into account the experience of other countries.
The plan may involve opening up some areas while keeping hotspots shut and restricting the movement of senior citizens for longer as they are more vulnerable, two state government officials told ET, saying the lockdown could hence end in a gradual manner.
Common Exit Plan Needed
“All states need to agree on a common exit plan — there needs to be uniformity,” the official said. Modi may hold another call with CMs before April 14 to thrash out the exit plan, another senior official said.
Even after the lockdown is over, people should be asked to follow safety measures such as wearing masks, ensuring hand hygiene and social distancing, the PM said, warning them that the global situation was still precarious amid speculation about a possible second wave of infections.
The PM suggested ways in which states could augment the number of health workers in their battle against the disease. Also, welfare payments will be made in stages so that banks don’t get crowded.
“To increase the availability of doctors, he asked the states to tap into the resource pool of AYUSH doctors, organise online training and utilise paramedical staff, NCC and NSS volunteers,” the PMO said. “In the next few weeks, testing, tracing, isolation and quarantine should remain the areas of focus.”
Modi thanked the CMs for supporting the lockdown, due to which India has been able to limit the spread, saying states had worked together as a team. But the situation is still worrisome and the country needs to work harder, he said.
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee skipped the call on the grounds that she wasn’t on the list of those who were to speak. CMs asked for financial help and increased testing. Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan asked the PM for help with airlifting rapid test kits from Hong Kong.
CONGRUENCE IN DATA
The PM spoke about the need to set up crisis management groups and surveillance officers at the district level. “He said that data must be taken from the accredited labs for testing — this will ensure congruence in data of district, state and Centre,” the PMO said.
Hotspots were also a focus area with the health secretary apprising CMs of the surge in infections due to the March Tablighi Jamaat conclave in Delhi and the need to break the transmission chain in districts with a high number of confirmed cases.
Modi “said it is imperative to work on a war footing, identify hotspots of the virus, encircle them and ensure that the virus does not spread out”, the PMO said. The goal is to ensure minimum loss of life.
Payments to beneficiaries under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana will be made in phases “to avoid crowding at banks”, the PMO said.
Modi highlighted the importance of essential medical products, inputs for the manufacture of medicines and medical equipment as well as ensuring the availability of separate, dedicated hospital facilities for Covid-19 patients, the PMO said.
The PM said social distancing should be maintained during crop harvesting in the lockdown.
“He asked the states to think of other platforms for procuring grains apart from APMC, and explore the possibility of creating pooling platforms for rural areas, like that in ride-sharing apps, which can be used for this purpose,” the PMO said. Modi also asked CMs to reach out to community leaders and social welfare organisations at all levels in the battle against the pandemic.