Prime Minister Narendra Modi has exhorted state governments to lift localised lockdowns and short weekend lockdowns to boost economic sentiment. Chhattisgarh this week imposed lockdowns in 13 districts to combat a spurt in cases. Rajasthan has imposed Section 144 CrPC in a number of cities, which has the same effect as a lockdown. Earlier, various states like Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Bihar and Bengal had experimented with limited lockdowns. One of the reasons cited for weekend lockdowns is that it helps in keeping up the state of high alert among citizens.
However, these have been lifted in many places but most states still have various curbs on movement, especially inter-state transport, and restrictions on opening of shops beyond certain hours. These curbs continue to remain a dampener for businesses. The spurt of cases that began toward the end of the nationwide lockdown in late-May was reason enough to not proceed down the same path. Yet states reposed faith in lockdowns despite Centre junking this strategy.
The next central guidelines for unlocking must unequivocally remove all restrictions that hinder movement and trade. Night curfews for example are still followed despite no evident benefits. Inter state movement is difficult because of diverse and confusing quarantine rules. Citizens must be persuaded to wear masks, follow social distancing and get themselves tested as soon as symptoms appear or a primary contact is detected positive. All safety measures beyond this are turning out to be economically restrictive. The 24% decline in GDP is a calamity that will take more lives and livelihoods than the pandemic, which can be managed with public health interventions.