Opening up, Cautiously
There is no alternative except to open up the economy. How do you do that while still ensuring the spread of the virus is kept under control?
FACT: The economy is suffering. We have to ease up, we cannot afford to continue the Lockdown.
FACT: Officially, almost 100,000 people are testing positive every day. We have to take precautions
Neither can be looked at in isolation. Both are needed while framing strategy.
Take the second fact first.
We are well into community transmission, so “trace-test-treat” alone is not sufficient to slow the spread.
Each of us has to reduce the opportunities for the virus to infect us.
The only way to do it is by coming in contact with people only when essential, wearing a mask properly and maintaining physical distancing in public and practicing hand hygiene.
Can we stay locked up forever? Or at least till the vaccine is readily available?
It is not, as people think, a case of a few weeks more. It will be at least another six to nine months before a vaccine hits the market, and the economy cannot survive that long.
Economic activity (and not just essential services) has to resume. But it has to resume with precautions.
Individual businesses need to map the functions that require physical presence (and for how much time) and to only call those to the physical workplace. Functions that can be performed from a remote location should continue being performed remotely. This will reduce the number of people who are commuting to work every day.
Workplace practices also need to be redefined. In industries where it is possible, by setting output targets, rather than merely requiring a certain number of work hours, employees should be encouraged to keep the hours at the workplace to an absolute minimum.
Many businesses have shifted to hybrid models, and this practice should be adopted universally. The same employees could be retrained and retained to support the online business.
A conscious effort should be made to redefine working hours to ensure that wherever possible, timings are staggered to ensure that fewer employees are present in the workspace at any point of time.
This will also ease peak time demands on public transport. This is extremely necessary in a country like India where demand for public transport far outstrips supply, leading to overcrowding even at the best of times.
At the workplace, universal masking should be strictly adhered to. Where necessary, the employees could be provided with branded masks.
Care should be taken to ensure that employees keep the masks on even while using the restrooms, because evidence from airlines industry shows that washrooms are a place of maximum contamination.
Lunchtimes should be staggered, distancing maintained, and surfaces sanitized after every use.
Appropriate distancing should be maintained. And the workplace should be kept well ventillated to ensure germs do not linger.
Sanitisation of the entire office should be done frequently- at least every four hours.
Events requiring the physical presence of a large number of people should be avoided. They can continue to be conducted online as they have been for the past few months.
While it does not provide the same networking opportunities as physical events, more people can participate.
While the economy can open up with these precautions in place, it is incumbent on the employer to ensure that if one employee tests positive all the employees who may have come in contact with the person are tested, and any medical expenses taken care of.
This will go a long way in reducing the fear factor of the employees considerably.
Employers should also create a system where employees who display symptoms are encouraged to stay home and get tested.
Employees are used to popping an OTC drug and turning up to work; in the current scenario, that could be potentially dangerous.
#StayHomeStaySafe does not mean that nobody steps out of the house (it is not even possible in a nation where most people do not even have access to a dedicated washroom).
What it means is that you step out only if necessary, and with sufficient precautions to not get infected, or get infected with a lower viral dose.
This will hopefully slow down the spread of the virus, by ensuring that even when there is an exposure, the viral dose is low, so the body is able to launch an immune defense.
Controlled opening up is what is needed. It is the only thing that has worked in other countries.