NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday advised his ministers to prepare for a ‘new normal’ post the lockdown, asking them to work towards mitigating the economic impact of Covid-19 even as he said the country needed to brace for a long battle against the disease.
While emphasising the need to maintain strict vigil on the coronavirus situation and ensure implementation of relief measures, Modi said at a video-linked cabinet meeting that it was also essential to strategise for emergent conditions, including a graded plan to slowly reopen activity outside of hotspot areas.
He said ministries should prepare a business continuity plan that could include elements like guidelines for businesses to incorporate social distancing and health safeguards. It is possible that commuting may remain limited and work floor rules may have to be devised.
The 21-day lockdown is due to end next week and the government’s moves are being keenly watched amid continued cases of Covid-19 and indications that some levels of restrictions may remain.
Sources said the graded exit plan Modi has previously referred to will include continued restrictions in Covid-19 hotspots while mass transport like trains, metros and buses may remain limited or suspended. Other commutes might be permitted but would depend on the situation. Restaurants may resume, but initially only offer take-away services.
Modi asked his ministers to prepare a list of 10 major decisions and 10 priority areas of focus on post the lockdown, and exhorted them to identify and implement pending reforms.
A key theme seemed to be reducing dependence on other nations, an indication of a policy to promote Make-in-India and boost local manufacturing. Disruption in the global supply chain has already prompted many experts and economists to underline the need to have a robust local economic set-up, especially to manufacture key products, such as pharmaceuticals.
Before the cabinet meeting, held over video link, the PM in a recorded message to BJP workers on the party’s 40th foundation day said the country should brace for a “long battle”.
While Modi repeatedly insisted that the battle would be long, he said no one should give up (“na thakna hai, na harna hai”) and the country had demonstrated its resolve by adhering to the lockdown and citizens had shown solidarity with frontline workers.
In the cabinet meeting, the PM said the current crisis offered “an opportunity to become self-dependent in the medical sector”. India is heavily reliant on China for basic drugs and other key equipment and gear to combat the deadly virus. Besides, manufacturing of ventilators is limited with the respiratory support apparatus and its key components being imported into the country.
Apart from the local manufacturing pitch, there appeared to be an aggressive tone in the economic strategy, with the PM asking for an export plan that focused on new markets and sectors, even as he acknowledged that shipments out of the country had been impacted.
In his address to party cadres, Modi asked them to take up five tasks including helping the poor with food; honouring those at the frontline; mobilising society; doing a thanksgiving campaign for nurses, doctors, sanitation staff, police, bank and post officials; creating awareness on Arogya Setu; and contributing to the PM- CARES Fund and motivating at least 40 people to make contributions.
Modi also responded to the opposition’s criticism about his government’s measures against Covid-19, asserting that India’s efforts had set an example for the world and drawn praise from the World Health Organisation and leaders abroad.
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