Covid-19 challenge: India works on 3-month plan, to stagger dole

At least 14 ministries have drawn up plans that are being assessed along with those of the states.

PTI
The Centre has prepared a graded action plan with a three-week to three-month horizon to respond to the Covid-19 challenge, which includes staggering financial incentives so as to not exhaust options early in the fight.

Those familiar with details of the plan told ET that the idea, which has been discussed at the highest levels, is to be “pre-emptive and early” on the health side, but be “timely and effective” with the fiscal interventions, depending on how the virus spreads in the coming three weeks.

“We have to calibrate our response and use of resources. We don’t want to be in a situation where the epidemic outlasts our ability to intervene,” a top government source told ET.


At least 14 ministries have drawn up plans that are being assessed along with those of the states. “We need to stagger our response, just like the stages of the outbreak,” the person said.

The government believes a clearer assessment on the extent of community transmission in India will be available in the next two weeks as results from testing come in. “Two weeks is what’s needed to get an accurate result because you can have incorrect results without a second confirmatory check,” explained the official.

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Preparations Underway
“We are testing significant numbers now and will have a fair idea of the spread at the end of this period,” the official said.

In anticipation, the authorities have identified quarantine and isolation centres across most districts in the country. Also, a plan is underway to have a dedicated hospital ready for Covid-19 patients in every district to handle any surge in numbers.

Simultaneously, a big package is being prepared to help the poor, especially those in the unorganised sector. But this is to be announced in a phased manner. “If we don’t give money in the hands of the poor, they will defy the lockdown and come out,” said an official privy to the details.

In the first phase, an advisory is expected to go out to state governments to pay two months’ pension in advance, allow extra withdrawal of ration in one go, facilitate mid-day meals for children even when schools are closed, and supply dry ration to expectant mothers through Aanganwadi workers.
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The other schemes being considered for advance payments are the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and PM-KISAN, which would put more cash in the hands of the poor. The relief measures will be staggered over three-six weeks.

Officials involved in finalising the plan said, “In two weeks we will know if the lockdown has been successful in arresting the rise in the number of Covid-19 cases. The best case scenario is that the lockdown is successful. Then we will roll out the second phase of measures.”
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The next three weeks are crucial, as the country expands testing. While the criteria have been expanded, private testing facilities are in the process of getting necessary approvals.

Since there is a two-week gap for the second confirmatory test, the government would need to employ a wait-and-watch policy. If the numbers keep surging, the government would need another tranche of measures beyond April 14, when the three-week lockdown ends.
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