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‘Empowered Group’ meeting today to discuss exit strategy post shutdown

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NEW DELHI: The government has convened a meeting of the ‘Empowered Group on Strategic Issues Related to Lockdown’, to be chaired by the home secretary, on Monday to discuss an exit strategy after the lockdown, indicating that Centre may be looking at a calibrated way to open up the country at the end of the 21-day period of restrictions.

“The meeting will be chaired by Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla and will have Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant along with secretaries from 13 departments including economic affairs, health, DPIIT, pharmaceuticals, I&B, MeitY, labour & employment, and chairman, railway board among other government representatives,” a senior government official aware of the matter told ET.

“On the industry side, FICCI and CII have been asked to bring their proposals to the table,” the official added.

Officials familiar said the government was looking at a calibrated way to open up the country, and wanted to do so in consultation with the industry.

The meeting between the senior most bureaucrats of the country and the industry comes within days of Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking states to come up with strategies to lift the lockdown in phased manner while ensuring that risk to human lives through spread of Covid-19 is minimised. By Sunday evening, the coronavirus cases in India had jumped to 3,374 with the death toll mounting to 79, according to the health ministry.

“The lockdown has given the government time to put up the infrastructure required to deal with the onslaught of the epidemic…now the efforts are also being redirected to starting the economic engine, obviously it can’t be paused indefinitely and the meeting is scheduled to discuss what should the strategy be going forward,” another official said.

Officials said that each industry needs to be looked differently and the ones where human contact can be minimized will get precedence such as air cargo travel versus passenger flights.

Meanwhile, the government is studying models followed in places like South Korea and even China in terms of the standard operating procedures, which have been followed to keep spread of Covid-19 to the bare minimum.

This could include wearing masks, maintaining social distance and frequently checking temperature of people deployed, another person in the knowhow told ET. Rapid antibody testing has certainly made this discussion more fruitful as these tests will instantly help identify people who need further testing.

“We could continue with lockdown in hotspots while we could open up economic activity in areas which have not seen any new cases of Covid even if there are some active cases with certain protocols in place,” the second official said.

The nationwide lockdown to contain the Covid-19 outbreak which began on March 25 has brought India’s economic activity to a standstill, triggering a raft of agencies to sharply cut India’s GDP estimates for FY21.

The latest was Fitch Ratings which on Friday slashed India’s growth forecast for the current fiscal to a 30-year low of 2%, from 5.1 per cent projected earlier. In its report, Fitch said micro, small and medium-sized enterprises and the services segments are likely to be among the most affected amid reduced consumer spending.

Industry executives believe that given the mass exodus of migrant workers to their hometowns will not allow a full-scale reviving of industrial operations and even agricultural activity in some parts of the country is likely to face labour shortages in the harvest and sowing season.


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