Editorial: Between a rock and a hard place

To get the battered economy back on its feet, even as COVID 19 rages across Tamil Nadu, the state government has set out a road map with the eighth phase of lockdown beginning September 1.
Editorial: Between a rock and a hard place


This time around, there are relaxations aplenty, from doing away with the e-pass for intra-state travel, a bone of contention since inception to the opening of the Metro trains and MTC buses, which are the lifelines of the metropolis. Many restrictions that have been in place since the beginning of the pandemic are still intact - educational institutions, theatres, and tourist spots (with exceptions) are out of bounds. The government’s decision to unlock the state carries with it a certain sense of inevitability.
The uncertainty that had governed many decisions in the past is being replaced by a notion of practicality and caution. To put this in context, Tamil Nadu on Sunday had recorded 6,495 new cases, with Chennai registering 1,249 cases. Aggressive testing in the region, with numbers in the range of 80,000-odd over two days could reveal a higher tally of those affected in the coming week. The experiments in easing restrictions are being carried out even as India blazes past the 36 lakh mark on the COVID-count.
For starters, the MTC buses which lie at the heart of the public transport network in Chennai will have to undergo a sea-change, not just in protocols, but in assets and machinery to fit into this new order of commute. Apart from evolving an economically feasible model of distancing within buses, and doing away with the idea of standing passengers, it will need to provide its working crew i.e drivers and conductors, with supplies of PPE and sanitiser kits. It will also take an attitudinal shift on the part of passengers to ensure there is no overcrowding, which in turn will require the bus to make more trips. There’s also the question of how safe major bus depots and the accompanying retail and food outlets can be made keeping in mind, the spread of the virus.
During the easing of public transport restrictions in districts outside Chennai, violations of distancing norms were reported on state buses. There’s also the question of ensuring vehicles are sanitised after one phase of every round trip, a rule which applies to other modes of public transport such as Metros too. Providing for such amenities will cost the state a significant amount of funds, the provisioning for which will need to be made in advance, and will most likely result in a hike in ticket prices.
On the retail front, malls and showrooms will need to start earmarking waiting areas, if distancing norms need to be followed correctly. This will also be required in places of worship that are usually packed to the brim on special occasions. In popular malls in Gurugram, apparel outlets mandate that customers will be allowed to take only one article of clothing for trials, after which it will be sent to the dry cleaner. Similarly, beauty accessories are also being showcased using single-trial samples, as opposed to the previous system when anybody could try out products from the same pack. Despite precautions, stepping out like it’s business as usual will be daunting for many. The ICMR recently pointed out complacency of people concerning hygiene and flouting of advisories are partly responsible for the surge in the country.
For some, the relaxations that were announced might come across as a complete surprise, as it was just last Sunday that India became the first country in the world to cross the 80,000 COVID case mark in one day. But cowering in fear of the virus can no longer be an option, as sustenance of everyday life will require the wheels of the economy to be set into motion. So, in many ways, this can be considered an economic unlock rather than a clean chit from the virus. Both the government and the public must treat this transition in a manner that makes it risk-free for all.

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