Underlining that India’s goal is to ensure minimum loss of life and outlining the next steps in India’s strategy to deal with the coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19), Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday indicated that once the lockdown ends, the Centre and the states will together ensure a staggered re-emergence of the population.
Interacting with the state chief ministers over video conference from his residential office at 7, Lok Kalyan Marg, the PM emphasised that in the next few weeks, “testing, tracing, isolation and quarantine” should remain the focus areas of the local administrations, according to an official statement.
During the interaction, Modi also spoke about formulating a “common exit strategy” to ensure “staggered re-emergence of the population” once the lockdown ends. The PM asked the state governments to brainstorm and send suggestions to the Centre on how to do this. He emphasised that even after the lockdown ends, the importance of social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 must continue.
This is the first hint of the government’s thinking on what happens after April 14; it suggests that while a complete lockdown will not continue, neither will there be entirely free movement of people, with restrictions in place for certain geographical clusters, demographic groups and on travel.
The video conference with CMs took place two weeks after the first such meeting on the pandemic on March 20. Thursday’s meeting focused on the current strategies in force and the next steps in the battle against pandemic.
The PM praised different states for their “teamwork” which had helped check the speed of the virus, and thanked them for supporting lockdown, due to which, the PM suggested, India had achieved some success in limiting the spread of COVID-19.
He also asked the states to make available dedicated hospital facilities for COVID-19 patients, tap into the resource pool of AYUSH doctors, organise online training and utilise paramedical staff and civil society volunteers. States could consider setting up crisis management groups at the district level, in line with groups of bureaucrats formed by the union government, and appoint district surveillance officers, he suggested.
At a time when there remains a debate about whether India is testing enough, the PM underlined that data for testing must come from accredited labs so that there is congruence in data of district, state and the Centre.
The PM also asked for staggered release of funds to the beneficiaries under PM Garib Kalyan Yojana to avoid crowding at banks.
Talking to the CMs, the PM said that the Centre has provided some relaxation of rules to harvest crops but monitoring and social distancing must take place during harvesting. He also asked the states to think of other platforms for procuring grains apart from agriculture produce marketing committees, and explore the possibility of creating pooling platforms for rural areas, like that in ride sharing apps, which can be used for this purpose.
He also appealed to work on war footing and quick identification of virus hotspots and to encircle them to ensure the virus does not spread out. He emphasised the need to maintain law and order across the country and added that COVID-19 has “attacked faith and belief and is threatening our way of life”.