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By Roopa Kudva
The world over, science is telling us that the peak of the covid-19 pandemic will occur over a 10 day to a two-three month period. Most countries are in different phases of a lockdown. Some have just begun. In others, the lockdown is well under way and they are considering extending the lockdown. And China is trying to move out. Soon, all countries will need to develop a strategy to exit their lockdowns; the discourse on this has already begun. A consensus is emerging in India that the exit will need to be gradual, with attention to stage-by-stage relaxations. The recommendations by an expert committee on an exit strategy for Kerala have been circulated. At the highest level, an exit strategy would need to have four elements:
One, we have to maintain high preparedness of the healthcare system over the medium term. This is necessary because we don't yet have a vaccine for covid-19 and there are many unknowns. For example, we don't know whether and when there might be a spike again and whether re-infection can occur in previously infected people. Measures of health preparedness need to be informed by a science-based and data driven approach. Equally, it is essential to support and empower the public health authorities at the state and local levels.
Two, we must maintain a reasonable form of social distancing and prevent large gatherings for a significant period of time. This will help prevent a spike in infections. Announcing norms and "rules of the game" for businesses, educational institutions, traffic, public transport and social/religious gatherings for a 6 month period is vital, so that the system can plan and make the necessary adjustments. The "rules" will need to clarify what is permitted and what is not, what kind of measures are being taken to stagger attendance and gatherings of people. Some sectors (sports, education, tourism, cinema, and F&B to name just a few) are much more significantly impacted, and clarity and predictability on social distancing measures here will be particularly useful. Some practices like wearing masks when outside, and use of hand sanitizers, will have to become the new normal.
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