The greatest challenge we face in the current crisis is striking the right balance between preventing not only the damage inflicted by COVID-19 but also that which comes from a severe contraction of economic activity.
While it is difficult to be precise about the economic cost of continued lockdowns, the effects are bound to be massive.
Businesses have been allowed limited opening times under the current partial lockdown, bringing some respite to traders. However, there are still places which have been completely shut down for over four months now. Cases in point are the Dimapur New Market and the Hong Kong Market/Haji Park Shopping complexes.
Traders in these large market areas of the State’s commercial capital have had to endure tremendous hardships with their shutters being closed for such a long time. And it is not just the traders in these major market places. Sectors like the restaurant and hospitality industry are also suffering.
The Coronavirus has brought out a life or death situation not just through the virus itself, but also due to the impact it is having in economic activity. A deep recession is likely to cause widespread hardship, including increased mortality rates for reasons other than the virus.
But this presents its own set of difficulties. Could we lift the lockdown on a large scale by imposing only strict rules on the wearing of masks, social distancing, and other sanitary rules applied in every business? Will people follow the guidelines though?
More importantly, relying on individual responsibility here creates obvious conflicts between personal and collective interests. Will a retailer who doesn’t have the space for social distancing be prepared to keep her shop closed when her direct competitor with a larger floor is allowed to open? And, importantly, it will be difficult to control the human density outside their stores, offices and production sites, particularly in city centers and on mass transit systems.
Smart strategies therefore need to be formulated in order to enable reopening businesses while minimizing health risks.
The State Government has to choose among a variety of options now -- a long lockdown, relaxation with rules, stop-and-go lockdowns, and phased-in lockdowns.
There is no perfect strategy, at least not with the information we have today. But decisions will have to be made in order to allow us to get through this once-in-a-century pandemic with as little loss of life and life opportunities as possible.
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