“This is the time for an awareness campaign to really strike home, and that is where I would put the emphasis rather than just draconian lockdowns,” says Swaminathan Aiyar, Consulting Editor, ET Now.
How do you see the Covid situation developing because we are just about beginning to feel things coming back to quote, unquote, “normal” back here in India? The flights were beginning to fly at a decent amount of capacity, your commercial establishments etc were picking up, the festive season showed that demand was coming back, thus it has come at a very bad time.
Well, this is happening everywhere in the world in the northern hemisphere. There was a reduction in Covid cases, there was optimism, stock markets surged, the number of indicators certainly improved but then inevitably winter is coming. December, January and February will be the three worst months, everybody knows that. This has been stressed by Dr Fauci in the US Senate. It has been stressed by various people in Europe. You can see the rate of infections in those countries is suddenly skyrocketing, in some cases it is the worst ever. India luckily does not get quite that cold but north India will turn cold and some parts of it will get very cold. We have to expect that the virus is not going to stage a comeback here as it has done in the rest of the world but we should be prepared for it. I think we are prepared for it. People know that there is going to be a spike and what we require is a calibrated reaction. Panic, of course, is silly. We do not want a full lockdown again. The cost of a lockdown in terms of income with human costs, the loss of schooling and human capital, all these are tremendous. As far as possible, we should try and keep all these things open. A curfew is a relatively mild form of reduction but I would certainly agree that the most important thing is to observe social distancing, wear masks and to be careful. If individuals are careful and responsible, I think, we will overcome this particular spike without too much damage. If, on the other hand, people are lax, then no amount of government action will prevent the virus from spreading. So, we need to have a campaign of awareness and the solution lies in our own hands; let us do it by behaving sensibly.
We were seeing a drop in cases without any great kind of care being taken by people. The fact is that over the last few weeks when the cases were dropping, it was not as if people were suddenly taking a lot of care and they have stopped now. My question is if things get worse you will have to go beyond fines and night curfews. So, how can you move forward in a calibrated fashion without really harming the economy? What are the options there?
The options are all the way down to a complete lockdown but I would be against that. In India, people are living in very crowded conditions; the streets are very full of people. There are seven-eight people sleeping in a room in many cases. In those circumstances, merely shutting down all economic activity is not going to solve the problem. To some extent, we are going to have to live with this kinds of infections. It is inevitable when so many people are in close contact simply because we are of a poor crowded country with poor crowded cities. So, we will live with that. I would go easy on government action. I would stress awareness more than government action. If there are seven-eight people sleeping in a room and the entire locality is extremely crowded, you do not solve any problem by closing down the shops or by closing down the schools. I would keep those going as far as possible. This is the time for an awareness campaign to really strike home, and that is where I would put the emphasis rather than just draconian lockdowns.