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Saturday, May 30, 2020

Lockdown 5.0 In Containment Zones, Unlock 1.0 In Rest Of India!



The government of India today announced the 5th extension of lockdown with Lockdown 5.0 to be in force till June 30, 2020 in all containment zones while listing out a phased lockdown exit plan for other areas of the country. Lockdown 4.0 ends on 31st May. Therefore, while the national capital Delhi is going to complete a full exit soon with many curbs eased already notwithstanding record spikes of new cases in recent days, the financial capital Mumbai is still in the doldrums with infections and deaths spiraling, and will settle for a fifth extension of a month. However, detailed guidelines for Mumbai, Pune and other hot-spot places of Maharashtra are expected tomorrow from the state government. National directives for other guidelines are to be enforced all across the country. The night curfew is cut down to 8 hours now—from 9 pm to 5 am daily—which will also hold for the entire country. By today’s order inter-state and intra-state movements also become free without the requirement of any e-pass unless the state government concerned thinks differently.

Phase-1 of the exit plan enlists the reopening of religious places, hotels, restaurants and hospitality services and shopping malls from 8th June, 2020. All other activities as allowed earlier will continue. However, with the govt and private offices already allowed with full staff clarity is missing about how people are going to commute as public transport including local trains or metro not in operation yet. The enlisted reopening shall of course be bound by the standard operating procedures to be announced soon by the Health Ministry. Under Phase-2 feedback will be taken from the states and union territories based on the latter’s’ consultations with the institutions, parents and all stakeholders for reopening schools, colleges, educational/training/coaching institutions. A likely decision on this by the government of India is likely in the month of July. Phase-3 of the exit plan deals with re-starting international flights, local and Metro rail services, cinema halls/gyms/bars/entertainment parks etc. and various kinds of social/political/religious/sports functions and large congregations. Dates for re-starting any or all of these will be taken after assessing the situation and reports.

India has registered the highest of all nearly 8000 COVID-19 new cases and the highest number of deaths at 265 in the last twenty-four hours, and spikes in different states are continuing. The situation till June 30 in all zones will be under scanner and review, if necessary, will be undertaken which may see reversal of exit decisions. 

Friday, May 29, 2020

India Lockdown: Are We Heading For A Messy Situation?



Disturbing thoughts are invading many minds of the people in India. Has the India Lockdown been somewhat compromised down the line? Have the governments decided to open up too soon? Are the on-going heavy spikes of new cases in several states of the country following the natural graph of COVID-19 spread or have these been the result of the said compromises? When is the migrant workers crisis finally going to end? Has the delay on part of government of India in dealing with the migrant workers caused irreparable harm to our fight against Coronavirus?

Unfortunately, answers are not at all forthcoming. We can only look at the developments with mixed feelings of doubt, regrets and trepidation. While India was still within the Lockdown in only its second extension the government of India finally decided to provide trains to shift the migrant workers to their destination states. However, after nearly a month the process is far from being completed with thousands of workers still trying to get any means of communication or waiting in the stations of cities like Mumbai and Delhi for days in the hope of getting trains. Matters are getting worse with the Railway Minister and the concerned states being embroiled in cross-allegations and passing the blame. With the heat wave hitting most parts of the country migrant workers started dying inside the roasting train compartments having no food or water for days; others suffering waiting in the stations without even a resting shade; still others commuting by whatever means and dying due to exhaustion or accidents. With the Lockdown continuing some of the workers who decided to stay on had to leave due to bankruptcy and eviction by landlords. Now, even the top court in India had to step in ordering the government of India not to charge fares from workers and to provide food, water and shelter for the affected whenever or wherever needed. So, this human tragedy shows on indication of coming to a conclusion.

Running hundreds of migrants trains the government had decided to start regular train services partially from 12th of May, still within the third extension of lockdown. Once you decide to open up trains the opening of domestic flights cannot wait for too long, logically speaking. Finally, domestic flights started from the 25th of May, despite objections by states that suffered the worst. Now, this all-round movement of huge masses of humanity is putting most states under tremendous pressure—to accommodate thousands in quarantine and protecting the local population from possible infections. In fact, the movements have contributed to the spikes of new cases in several states—some of which are still under strict curbs while some others have been gradually opening up. We take the example of Assam: the state was well under control with less than hundred infected; but after the various influxes of people infections have shot up to nearly a thousand in a matter of 3/.4 days, and the state having one of the poorest health infra could be reeling if the COVID cases cross five thousand. Delhi that showed an unusual hurry to open up has been having huge spikes, and Kerala—the model of the Indian fight—is beginning to have worrying spikes too.

One point is rather blurry. When a lockdown is extended some curbs do stay on for desired results; but it has been observed that these norms are changed or reversed well within the lockdown period when the rules still prevail, with or without the consents of the states concerned. Such moves can well be interpreted as compromises. Okay, from the economic point of view we are forced to ease some of the curbs, but not at the cost of creating possibilities for an uncontrollable spread.

For the last ten days India is having 6500—7500 new cases every day, and fortunately the death rate is still low at 2.8% which is one of the lowest in the world with Russia showing a rate just above one percent. Experts are saying that the Indian Corona peak is expected during June-July, 2020 and it has been observed from the experience of several countries that the COVID-19 virus starts showing spikes from its third month of spread and it continues for nearly a month after which new cases start stabilizing; but the disturbing question is whether that peak will take it out of control—at least in some of the states, and in that unfortunate event the low fatality rate would start rising ominously. With Lockdown 4.0 ending on 31st May, the general opinion that emerges is that in the containment zones the lockdown cannot at all be lifted while the process of easing the curbs would go on. Some states in contention for Lockdown 5.0 would be Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Telengana and others. But what about the states and union territories like Kerala, Delhi, Assam, Karnataka, West Bengal etc. that had already opened up significantly from the third extension onward? Well, the situation is far from being rosy at the moment, and depending on the unpredictable behavior of the virus it can worsen further or improve suddenly. We can only hope for the best. 


Friday, May 22, 2020

COVID And Amphan: Indian Contrasts In Crisis Times!



When the extremely severe cyclonic storm Amphan hit Kolkata and adjoining districts of West Bengal in the evening of 20th May, 2020, with a speed ranging from 110 to 133 km per hour the damage could very well be anticipated. West Bengal is not new to cyclones originating in the Bay of Bengal, in fact, three cyclones namely ‘Fani’, ‘Bulbul’ and ‘Amphan’ swept over the state within a span of one year only—from May 2019 to May 2020. However, the force and speed of Amphan was unprecedented in the state as some point out that the areas had not seen such a severe cyclone in 283 years. By late night that fateful day, closeted in the control room of her secretariat in Howrah, Chief Minister Mamata Bannerji, distressed and sad, said while briefing the media online that a few districts of her state and Kolkata were totally destroyed and it would take days to assess the damage apart from the loss of lives. She desperately hoped that the central government would come in with some help as her state was already drained of resources with the battle against COVID-19 raging on. Didi, as she is popularly known, also hoped Prime Minister Modi would come and see the damage for himself. And, the Indian Prime Minister responded magnanimously, announcing the very next morning his decision to visit the state on 22nd May.

Political differences between BJP-ruled central government and TMC-ruled West Bengal state government are only too well known with both parties not stopping the rivalries and the parleys even during COVID times, in fact, fighting over COVID issues in recent days. Therefore, Mamata wishing for Modi’s presence and Modi’s gesture in coming immediately is being viewed in a new light: that they have come together in a spirit of cooperation in the time of crisis, setting aside politics for the moment. The Prime Minister expressed full solidarity with the state government—hit by twin-tragedies, and praised its efforts in tackling both the catastrophes. He assured full help at every step of the way ahead—restoration, reconstruction, rehabilitation and the like, and announced a preliminary financial package for immediate expenses.  Later in her media brief at the airport after seeing off the Prime Minister, Mamata Bannerji appreciated Modi’s visit and his promise of joint efforts, not saying anything against the offer of help as claimed by a ‘national’ news channel that started carrying supers ‘Mamata Slams Aid’.

Unfortunately, Maharashtra wing of the BJP failed to learn any lesson from its central leadership bonhomie, and selected this same say to stage public protests all over the state claiming the state government’s mishandling of the COVID fight, perhaps the very first instance of such kind in the worldwide war against the killer virus. One of their allegations, as puerile as it sounded, was that why Maharashtra has witnessed such a spike in cases while Kerala handled it so competently. Well, ‘serving’ the interests of the local people for decades they still don’t understand why Mumbai is Mumbai, and why it should have the largest number of COVID-19 infections, like, in a similar way, why the virus should select New York for its special treatment. In totality, they must understand that COVID is not a political phenomenon and doesn’t go by who ruled which state. At this hour of crisis for the state the best option for them is to inspire the people to follow the precautions religiously and to jump in the fray for total cooperation. Perhaps, in India, political parties need multiple tragedies strike in unison to make them lose their political rivalries and power-hungry politics, even if for the time being.  

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