India is gradually preparing for a new normal as the economy becomes the centre stage of discussion after 47 days of lockdown. More than unlocking, it’s about adapting to the situation and restarting the economy.

As part of the phased unlocking, Indian Railways on Sunday said it will resume passenger train services in a gradual manner from Tuesday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will discuss with state chief ministers on Monday what needs to be done next in the fight against the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Modi will hold a video conference with chief ministers, the Prime Minister’s Office tweeted on Sunday. This would be his fifth meeting with chief ministers since 20 March. The meeting is expected to discuss the way ahead on relaxing the nationwide lockdown and fine-tuning containment measures in local areas. A nationwide lockdown since 25 March has dealt a heavy blow to jobs and the economy while triggering a massive reverse migration of workers from cities to villages.

Analysts have already cut their projections for India’s economic growth rate this fiscal, with the lockdown severely denting sales and raising concerns of corporate delinquencies and bad loans.

Experts said the only way out of this massive disruption, at least in the near term, is people changing their behaviour to adapt to realities and learn to live with the virus.

On Sunday, India reported 43,966 active cases, a 65% surge in the past 10 days, despite large parts of the country, including Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Bengaluru, that account for about half of the country’s output, remaining under lockdown. The third phase of lockdown is set to end on 17 May.

Indicating that curbs on movement may not be a permanent solution, Lav Agarwal, joint secretary, Union health ministry, said, “As we talk of relaxations to lockdown, we have to deal with the challenge of learning to live with the virus.” For this, we need to make the required prevention measures a part of our life, through a behaviour change, he said last week.

Seating arrangements and work shifts in schools, workplaces and restaurants to ensure physical distancing will become the norm. So will be avoiding public functions, relying more on home delivery of items, more frequent and less-crowded public transport and more reliance on technology and mandatory masks.

Economists have argued that the economy cannot perpetually remain in a lockdown due to the uncertainty around the virus. While businesses in general have been hit, the problem for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) is several of them are in so-called red zones, especially those in metros, and are also facing a shortage of workers.

The 63 million MSMEs in the country contributed 29% of gross domestic output in FY17, showed official data.

The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) on 2 May urged the government to let businesses run in areas with heavy commercial and industrial presence, including in containment zones, with highest safety protocols. This can help businesses sustain themselves and avert job losses, CII said.

Cement producers are ready to operate with a common safety protocol, which will be followed in every factory, said Mahendra Singhi, president of the Cement Manufacturers Association.

“Production is slowly gearing up, adjusting to the new operational model. As we return to work, that one thing which stands changed is our mindset and approach,” Singhi said.

According to Dr Sakhtivel Selvaraj, director of health economics, financing and policy, at the Public Health Foundation of India, MSMEs must be immediately revived to kick-start production, including by provision of loans and debt relief.

“They may have to produce at 30-40% capacity as public transport will remain shut for at least one month and likely to function at reduced load,” said Selvaraj.

India will continue to rely on the manufacturing sector despite the current halt in activity. “The government is working on multiple fronts to boost the manufacturing output in the country, which will help improve this sector’s share in the overall economy beyond the current 15%,” Amitabh Kant, chief executive of policy think tank NITI Aayog, said, adding the government has offered production-linked incentives to attract overseas firms in electronics, drug ingredients and medical devices.

Scientists have also called for changes in lifestyle while the search for a vaccine continues.

“No one knows till when the virus is going to be here. It may cause a second wave in the winter. It can also disappear like SARS. Or stay like seasonal flu,” said Lalit Kant, scientist and former head of epidemiology at the Indian Council of Medical Research.

The government has advised industry that work-shifts and lunch hours should be such that social distancing is ensured. “Preparation for the disease is the only key,” said Kant.

As the lifting of the lockdown is almost close to the beginning of summer vacations in schools, child health experts have called for better preparation to open schools.

“Summer vacation has provided a window of opportunity to government authorities to prepare further to deal with the pandemic and open the schools in a planned way,” said Dr Naveen Thacker, executive director of International Pediatrics Association.


News Source: Livemint


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