Eight steps to make the lockdown work

India is at the cusp of an exponential pandemic crisis. But like any crisis, bold action can help reduce the impact. Here are seven of them.

Firstly, recognize and accept realities at the earliest possible stage. Risk experts have a different take on the adage — hope for the best but prepare for the worst. It is “hope is not a strategy, and the reality is always worse than scenarios”. If we are alarmists, then at the most, we may waste some resources, but if not, preparation would save countless lives. Now is not the time to be hiding bad news from stakeholders. Instead, it is the time to advocate worst-case scenarios unblemished, without fear or favor.

Second, scenarios have to be planned in ‘Horizons’. For instance, Horizon One would be the exponential increase of patients, the unprecedented strain on medical infrastructure and the economic impact of the lockdown. Horizon Two is picking up the pieces and limping back to normalcy accepting that a certain percentage of our population, especially the elderly, including critical leadership in political, administrative and corporates may not be available. These horizon planning teams have to be separate so that each can focus on their objective. Loading all the planning and execution on the same officials of administration and police who are already in firefighting mode will overwhelm the system.

Thirdly, and most importantly, work out the value chain of essential services in microscopic detail. Just keeping the food and medicine shops open, is meaningless if the people supplying those are locked up. Communication, Power, fuel, and gas are four critical lifelines that have to be kept going at all costs. The first two are vital for the government to govern and the last two to deliver relief where needed. This means that the lockdown will have to ease far more, accepting the accompanying risks. Else, unintended consequences will manifest shortly. These will be, failures of telecommunication networks including the internet (engineers have to repair the systems, technicians have to fuel the generators. Gas cylinders and kerosene have to be supplied for cooking. And fuel is required for all of this). If the communication channels break, everything else including food supply will unravel rapidly.

Ironically, lockdown increases loads because data streaming explodes in fragmented networks. Here is why. When office goers and students are in office/school, networks transport data up to the office complex from where the internal networks distribute that link. Now that data is being streamed directly to homes, through far more fragmented systems, swamping the infrastructure which is not designed for such loads, and with no IT team to maintain them.

These four critical commodities have very long value chains, starting from the refineries, powerplants and import hubs, right up to the last mile delivery and everything in between. For instance, consider the implication if your router, fridge or cooking stove gets broken. Where is the supply chain to replenish it? Also factor in the human angle. If a technician, policeman, administrator or politician or someone in his family falls sick, that resource is unavailable.

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