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Friday, Apr 03, 2020 12:15 [IST]

Last Update: Friday, Apr 03, 2020 06:40 [IST]

Just buying time

We are already into the 10th day of nation-wide lockdown. Most countries worldwide are now in the same situation; others around the world will follow suit soon enough.
Because the virus can apparently be transmitted by those without symptoms, it has spread widely and under the radar of public-health authorities. To prevent health systems from being overwhelmed, aggressive social-distancing and self-isolation measures have been broadly implemented and accepted by the public. Whether they will slow the rate of transmission and limit the number of critical cases in the India and elsewhere remains to be seen.
Evidence that the epidemic has been curtailed or even contained in China and some other Asian economies is promising. These countries, however, relied not just on social distancing, but also on a vast array of tools that have not been extensively deployed in Europe and the US: widespread testing, contact tracing, mandated isolation, and so forth.
Everywhere, however, measures to mitigate the pandemic have produced a sudden stop to much economic activity, with essential services often among the only sectors exempted. The result will be a sharp drop in GDP and incomes, a near-certain spike in unemployment (as already seen in the US), a disrupted school calendar, and the suspension of pretty much any activity involving gatherings of more than a few people.
For some, videoconferencing, online education, and other digital applications have cushioned the blow. But the inevitable economic outcome will be a deep recession and far-reaching collateral damage to people’s livelihoods and well-being.
Locking down the economy is correctly viewed as a way to buy time to expand capacity and reduce the peak-load demand on health systems. But it is not a complete strategy. Even when combined with monetary accommodation and a large fiscal program geared toward protecting vulnerable people and sectors, an economic deep freeze cannot be sustained without eventually imposing unacceptable costs on individuals and society.
Large portions of the modern economy – not least restaurants, retail, theatres, sporting events, museums, parks, and many forms of tourism and transportation (such as air travel) – simply cannot operate under conditions of social distancing. These sectors account for a significant share of total employment. Other large sectors can still function, but not on all cylinders.
The question, then, is what can be done now to ensure that the recovery and return to normalcy happens as safely as possible. A lockdown of an economically tolerable duration cannot in itself reduce the risks associated with interpersonal interactions. The speed and safety of the recovery thus will depend critically on whether the risks of group activities have been lowered sufficiently. One important element of risk reduction concerns health-system capacity. The current focus on adequately equipping and protecting doctors and medical staff with what they need to provide critical care is therefore entirely justified.
But these front-line efforts will not reduce the risks of interpersonal contact more generally. To do that, we must use the lockdown period to expand the capacity for testing, contact tracing, isolation, and treatment.

Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi