- Staggered rollback starting from April 20.
- A partial reopening of the economy is being proposed.
- Most important things is to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- State and local administrations could continue with a tighter level of control on economic and social activities if required.
- Normalcy in life will have to wait until a vaccine or a treatment line is found.
- Small service providers, such as electricians, plumbers, IT repair, motor mechanics and carpenters, will be allowed to operate, which will help them and those who need to hire them.
- Industries outside city limits, certain types of construction both in rural and urban areas, segments of the service sector, and manufacturing partially will reopen after April 20.
- It will be a good idea to add tailors to that list, an essential service now that masks are mandatory in public and workplaces.
- New measures also include punishment for spitting and a ban on tobacco and gutkha at workplaces.
- Those violating the quarantine could face up to six months in jail.
- Hungry and desperate migrants have rioted in several parts of the country.
- A more comprehensive strategy must involve helping people stay at home, incentives to employers to pay salaries, and expansion of welfare support for the most vulnerable.
- Another area in need of urgent attention of governments is the breakdown of general health care in many parts of the country, claiming several lives and leaving far too many begging for treatment.
- The Centre must take the initiative to ensure that best practices from successful States are adopted across the country.
- WHO has been seeking at least $675 million additional funding for critical response efforts in countries most in need during the pandemic.
- U.S. President Trump halted funding to WHO.
- At over $500 million, the U.S. is WHO’s biggest contributor.
- Many low and middle-income countries will be badly hit for no fault of theirs.
- NOTE: WHO cannot independently investigate but can only rely on individual member-states to share information.
- There has not been one instance when it has been found “covering up” the epidemic in China.
- Rather, it has been continuously urging countries to aggressively test people exhibiting symptoms and trace, quarantine and test contacts to contain the spread.
- Faulting WHO for imaginary failings cannot help Mr. Trump wash his hands of many administrative failures in containing the epidemic.
- He has been blaming everyone else for his shortcomings in dealing with COVID-19.
- Previously, he praised both China and WHO.
Getting the containment strategy in India right
- In India, the lockdown was sudden and not accompanied by effective social security measures.
- An effective response in India must consider not only the behaviour of the pathogen but also the socioeconomic and cultural characteristics of the country.
- Only supportive treatment is available for the seriously ill.
- India does not have the capacity to manage a large number of very sick patients simultaneously and cannot ramp up resources significantly in the short time available.
- One of the principles of screening laid down by Wilson and Jungner over 50 years ago is that the cost of case-finding (including diagnosis and treatment of patients diagnosed) should be economically balanced in relation to possible expenditure on medical care as a whole.
- Poor have no option but to live in densely packed slums and tenements.
- The World Bank estimates that there are over 650 million poor people in India (living on less than $3.20).
- South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Japan have been successful in containing the disease.
- South Korea: Nearly 20,000 tests are done every day. There is widespread use of masks and sanitisers. No lockdown was imposed.
- In Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan, surveillance systems identified potential cases and their contacts.
- Diagnostic tests were developed early, and laboratory testing capacity was increased.
- In all these countries, costs are covered by the government.
- All government health staff are now concentrated on COVID-19.
- Important primary health-care services including maternal and child health, immunisations, deliveries and tuberculosis care are on hold.
- It amounts to abandoning the poor to their fates.
Cease the distractions, seize the moment
- The government has issued two ordinances, Parliament has modified its rules to reduce the salary and allowances of Members of Parliament and Ministers, and the Union Cabinet has decided to cancel the Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) for _____ years.
- The cut in sumptuary allowances for Ministers results in a total savings of ₹25,000 per month; yes, you read that right.
- Interestingly, the United Kingdom has increased the allowance for Members of Parliament by £10,000 to help them manage extra costs of working from home.
- During the crisis, Members of Parliament should be deliberating on the actions and policies to be taken to manage the epidemic, and the costs and consequences of various alternatives.
- They should also be trying to figure out ways to have committee meetings and even the meetings of the full House through alternate mechanisms such as video-conferencing.
- For example, while the U.K. has also implemented a lockdown, its Parliament is connecting all Members through video-conferencing (by April 15) so that the session can resume virtually on April 21 after the Easter break.
- The British Parliament has created a page on its website tracking all government orders related to the pandemic, and its Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee is scrutinising the orders.
- Other Parliaments are also working to fulfil their role as oversight bodies.
- The New Zealand Parliament has formed an Epidemic Response Committee that will examine the government’s management of the epidemic.
- This committee and other select committees are meeting through video-conference.
- The Indian Parliament adjourned on March 23, the day after the janata curfew, in view of the pandemic. In the previous week, even as the crisis was unfolding, Parliament was debating the establishment of a Sanskrit University and an Ayurveda institute, and that of regulatory boards for aircraft, Indian Systems of Medicine and Homoeopathy.
- The Finance Bill was passed without any discussion on the last day.
- There was no discussion on the possible implications of the coronavirus epidemic and policy measures to tackle it — this was the week when the Prime Minister made the first televised speech to the nation on the issue.
- Remarkably, there was no recognition of the pressures on the Budget when it was passed that week.
- Since then, Parliament has not held committee meetings. There have been no official statements regarding the possibility of holding these through video-conference.
- In brief, Parliament has abdicated its role as the elected body that checks the work of government on behalf of citizens. Instead, we get the symbolic gesture of reductions in pay and allowances.
- The current crisis provides several opportunities for reform.
- Parliament should explore how technology can be used to improve its efficiency.
- Much of the daily paper work such as filing questions and other interventions have been digitised while protocols and infrastructure may be needed if meetings have to be held through secure videoconferencing.
- Other issues such as pay and allowances for Members of Parliament need to be discussed.
- The Members of Parliament should be provided with office space and research staff.
- They should be compensated in line with their duties as national legislators. For example, the pay (₹1 lakh per month) and allowances (₹1.3 lakh per month) pale in comparison to that of U.S. Senators (pay $174,000 per annum plus allowances over $3 million per annum).
- At the same time, hidden perks such as housing in central Delhi must be made transparent — few democracies provide housing for legislators or civil servants; they are paid well and expected to find housing on their own.
- We need public debates on issues that impact the working of our legislatures.
- We need to ensure that we have the right compensation structures to attract the best people to make our laws and policies.
Harmonising with nature
- Germany’s abiding obsession with fiscal discipline and aversion to inflation, even today, can be traced to lessons learned during the 1920s, when that country experienced devastating hyperinflation.
- In the aftermath of the Great Depression, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt unleashed a series of reforms under his New Deal that covered financial sector regulation, insurance of private savings, labour standards and the introduction of social security — lasting interventions that serve U.S. society to this day.
- The 9/11 attacks, and India’s own tragedy of 26/11, altered our perspectives on safety in public spaces, and we have come to accept intrusive security checks as a price we must pay. Yet, other crises seem to leave no lasting imprint even when they ought to have made a bigger impact.
- In a world once again awash in cheap funds, lessons from the 2008 financial sector collapse seem forgotten.
- If there can be any enduring takeaway from the cost imposed by COVID-19, it must be that our much-vaunted modern and technologically sophisticated society can be humbled by nature operating at its most microscopic scale.
- At the same time, almost silently, at the other end of the scale, a slow but perceptible escalation of climate calamities, including more severe storms, more destructive forest fires and faster melting of glaciers, indicate a carbon-emissions-triggered crisis where nature in reacting on a macro scale.
- To start with, it would help to shed some of the chutzpah that we have allowed ourselves to adopt through the 20th century — that we can develop technologies to overcome nature and re-shape our environment.
NASA’s Voyager mission
- The growing appeal of renewable power generation stems from the fact that it can harness nature without damaging it.
- And most doctors treating COVID-19 patients vouch for the role of healthy living and robust immune systems as the best bet, so far, to protect ourselves.
- In all of this, nature seems to expect of us a certain economy of consumption and gentleness of impact.
- A human society that is sympathetic to and in harmony with our environment, and where humans listen to and nurture their selves, may be an enduring recipe for a safer future
In India’s response, a communications failure
- India has no crisis communication strategy was evident from the government’s request to the Supreme Court to curb the media from publishing or broadcasting news on the pandemic, without checking facts with them.
- Government should also use the media as an ally to broadcast its messages and, at the same time, take steps to pull down fake, misleading and alarmist news.
- Every daily briefing should be used as an opportunity for engagement, not circumvention.
- The more information the government gives, the less speculation and rumours will circulate.
- It has not created even a single central repository of public information and communication that speaks credibly, directly and continuously to people.
- During times of crisis, the government has to over-communicate.
- It is still not too late. The government needs to revise its media and communications strategy around the COVID-19 crisis to build an atmosphere of trust, social cohesion and purpose — where the media and people are participants.
- End the harassment of farmers now
- Drafting orders without caring for implementation seems to be the nature of governance during the period of lockdown.
- In a press release on March 27, the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordinating Committee (AIKSCC), in a representation to the government, had asked the police not to stop peasants and said “there should be no harassment and violence against peasants, farmers, vendors and transporters.”
- Equally ominous are the assaults on tribals and nontribal forest dwellers by the police and officials in all the tribal areas of the country.
- Industries operating in rural areas to reopen on April 20
- 170 districts identified as hotspots: Health Ministry
- India to receive normal monsoon, forecasts IMD
- India will likely have a normal monsoon, with a chance of ‘above normal’ rain in August and September, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said on Wednesday.
- The IMD issues a two-stage forecast: the first in April, followed by a more detailed one in the last week of May, which will also illustrate how the monsoon will spread over the country.
- It has also officially redefined the definition of what constitutes ‘normal’ rainfall and reduced it by 1 cm to 88 cm.
- The June-September rainfall accounts for 75% of the country’s annual rainfall.
- “Quantitatively, the monsoon seasonal rainfall is likely to be 100% of the Long Period Average (LPA) with a model error of ± 5%. The LPA of the season rainfall over the country as a whole for the period 1961- 2010 is 88 cm,” it said.
- Jobless workers stranded on Yamuna floodplains
- Doctor injured after crowd attacks officials in Moradabad
- Tablighi chief faces culpable homicide case
- Centre asks States to ramp up testing
Highlight the issues associated with MPLADS.