Social distancing is a must to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and contain its menacing exponential growth. However, its successful implementation will largely depend on coordinated approach and mitigating sufferings of the people to the extent possible and plausible.
Below are a few broadly suggested measures that can be implemented to enforce lockdown with a human face by mitigating people's hardships and suffering, which are evident across the states. Hunger, disruption and fear should not kill people before the dreaded virus COVID 19 does.
1. Strengthen logistics around online delivery platforms
Online delivery platforms such as Amazon, Big Basket, Big Bazar, Flip Cart, Grofers, Nature's Basket and Medicine suppliers like Netmeds, Pharmeasy, etc may be strengthened in terms of logistics support (procurement, movement, last-mile connectivity) to help them deliver essential goods to end-use customers. As of now, they are only able to offer skeleton services in small pockets because of problems in accessing supplier, transportation, loading and unloading, movement of delivery boys, etc. A functional online alternate and essential service delivery channel is an effective guarantee of ensuring that people stay at home.
2. Online issue of 'lockdown pass'
To enable citizens who do not have access to essential services online to go to nearby stores, online curfew pass may be issued by law enforcing authorities specifying movement from and to, both places and time, and specified purpose, so as to prevent misuse. Aadhar can be used as an identifier and repeat misuse can be checked and frivolous requests declined. The services of welfare department like Aanganwadi workers and helpers may be pressed to service the old, infirm, and other venerable sections of society.
3. RBI's moratorium implementation through tech applications
All works relating to forbearance and working capital review, as announced by the RBI to mitigate repayment obligations and working capital assistance to those who are affected by COVID 19, should be enabled online like a 59-minute MSME loan sanction. The exercise of repayment moratorium may be a simple process-driven one (online) with no necessity of people visiting the branches in this regard. Banks' IT systems should devise user-friendly functionalities in this regard with seamless communication across systems of those taking care of loan accounts and systems maintaining corresponding salary accounts.
4. Dedicated helpline with human beings, not automated recorded replies
A dedicated COVID-19 pan India helpline number should be available 24*7 with human beings who listen and understand the problems faced by citizens and direct them to the concerned authorities, spread across the country, rather than automated responses which are more information-oriented as at present rather than being assistance oriented.
5. Police as friend, philosopher, and guide on streets
The police force on the ground should be sensitised. While harsh treatment to offenders is required, they must understand people's genuine needs to obtain essential commodities, and facilitate need-based movement. Their role is to enforce the lockdown but with a humane face and they should be seen as foot soldiers on streets to support people.
6. Relief and rehabilitation of stranded passengers
The patrol team on road need to find and rescue migrant labourers and other stranded passengers from cities and towns headed for their hometowns. In the meantime, authorities need to identify relief and rehabilitation centres. One idea that comes to mind is the use of trains and railway stations that have necessary retiring spaces like sleepers, bed linen and catering infrastructure, whose services can be put to service immediately in this difficult time. Police control room (PCR) vans can be utilised to provide mobile support to people in distress in metros and urban centres.
7. Associate NGOs: PPP model in facilities management
An effective transition requires help from civil society and NGOs in particular. Eligible NGOs may be registered and their services can be utilised in various emergency facilities. The public-private partnership (PPP) model will be a more calibrated approach to manage resources in forward and backward linkage associated with problems, many unanticipated now, for mitigating risks during lockdown management.
8. District control room to supervise measures under PM Garib Kalyan Yojana
A control room can be opened in each district to ensure that all measures announced by the Finance Minister, including food security for supervising logistics in reaching around 6 lakh fair price shops and then facilitating the food grain reach to the targeted 80 crore people at the bottom of the pyramid.
9. Channelise business correspondent network
For accessing the direct cash assistance as announced by the Finance Minister, the existing branch and ATM infrastructure may not be in a position to service the 20 crore women with PM Jan Dhan Yojana accounts. A possible solution could be the activation of the business correspondent network of banks in the delivery of these services.
10. Integrated quick response (IQR) team and daily briefing
It is a war against the COVID-19 pandemic and resultant disruptions in society and the economy. As there are still many unknowns around it, and the situation is changing fast, an integrated quick response (IQR) team with officials from health, finance, civil supplies, home affairs, and other ministries like labour, women and child welfare, etc should be put in place to focus on tracking developments on 24*7 basis, analysing impacts, evaluating options, devising strategy and review of Implementation. This IQR team should address media on a daily basis till the lockdown persists to address all queries around COVID-19 such as health, supply chain, people's movement, financial and others and act as a war room. Fighting COVID-19 is no less than fighting a war.
(The author is a public policy commentator. Views are personal)