ALTERNATE SOCIO-ECONOMIC MODEL TO PROLONGED LOCKDOWN IN THE FACE OF THREAT!
Today the world is facing an unprecedented mass health risk in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic. As on today, 392,427 cases have been reported worldwide and 17,148 have died from the disease. The bulk of the damage has happened in China, Italy, Iran, USA, etc; India has been relatively spared with 511 cases and 10 deaths reported. However, it may be the precursor to a much larger incidence with the country teetering on the third phase of local transmission. A much higher incidence is expected in the next few weeks; hence the need for near-complete restriction of personal movement. This lockdown, it is hoped, will serve to break or interrupt the cycle of transmission and mitigate the impending disaster.
Howsoever beneficial or essential this measure is in the immediate context, the economic cost in the long term may be unbearable. The economy is already in the grip of a slowdown, with some sectors affected disproportionately. Manufacturing is the worst hit with a 25 % fall, and proportionate job losses. Agricultural production and employment are low as well. A prolonged lock-down may deal a fatal blow to the already struggling manufacturing sector; it is unlikely that employers will be able to pay full wages to employees for no work. Worst hit are private firms and MSME’s which may not be able to economically sustain such measures. The slowdown in manufacturing affects us all including the articles we use in our daily life like groceries. A prolonged full stop on manufacturing, office work etc will have manifold effect on all classes of society. Joblessness, shortages, including medical and food items are likely to snowball into social unrest and lawlessness. Eventually, the economy may take a larger hit, as may governance and law-and-order.
An alternate, equally safe approach, is possible and will mitigate such a socio-economic disaster. It maintains the safety principles of social distancing as well as personal safety precautions, and meanwhile allows limited productivity in factories, workshops, offices, and other work-spaces. It revolves around the practice of shift work. All workplaces can remain open 24 hours a day. The workforce in each establishment can be segregated into batches depending on their work hours. At any time, one-third or half of the workforce can occupy the workplace. The workplaces can be sanitized in between shifts, using either irradiation robots like ROBOLIGHT or Virucidal sprays. The personnel can undertake safety measures at the time of entry, such as hand-wash, etc. Low cost Virucidal air-purifiers can work during the shift to reduce the possibility of interpersonal transmission, along with other measures such as distancing.
If all workplaces adopt such a shift system in an integrated fashion, the transport and security services can absorb the extra load of operating around the clock. It is possible, using the Internet of Things (IOT) based smart city concepts, to organise large scale movement of workers and prevent crowding at any place. The modes of travel; buses, metro trains, shared taxis, can be sanitised in between batches, using similar measures.
The present restrictions on social and occupational movement are necessary and timely measures in the present time. Prolonged occupational restriction, however, is likely to be very detrimental to the economy and country beyond a certain time-frame. It is unlikely that transmission of the disease will end before mid- June. Certain measures, such as the one suggested, may help ameliorate a gloomy financial picture.