Gujarat reopens: Have economic considerations overtaken health concerns?

The state saw 366 new cases of Covid-19 just on Monday!


Gujarat reopened on Tuesday, with some major relaxations being offered to people not living in containment zones. But given how a total of 11,746 people across the state are currently infected, including 366 new additions on just Monday, May 18, and death toll in the state standing at 694, including 35 deaths reported on just Monday, one wonders if the decision to reopen was hasty and if it could lead to unforeseen repercussions.

The mortality rate in the state is over 5 percent which is higher than the national average of around 3 percent. But Gujarat is also a major industrial hub and contributes 8 percent of India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Key industries in Gujarat include petro-chemical, textile, gems and jewellery and agri-businesses among others. According to the Gujarat Government portal, the state has over 1200 large scale industries and over 4 lakh Small and Medium Enterprises (SME). All these had taken a huge hit due to the lockdown and the subsequent migrant exodus.

“Reopening the economy when the infection is at its peak renders the previous decision to implement a lockdown completely meaningless,” says advocate Suhel Tirmizi, a resident of Ahmedabad and a senior lawyer practicing in the Gujarat High Court. “It is when the migrants started going back that the government was jolted into reopening the state, as there would have been serious economic consequences,” he opines.

However, major economic hubs like Ahmedabad, Vadodara and Surat have several containment zones. Of the 35 Covid-19 deaths on Monday, 31 were from Ahmedabad alone taking the district tally to 555. 

Activity in containment zones still remains heavily restricted with only sale of essentials permitted, that too only between 8 AM and 3 PM. The curfew between 7 PM and 7 AM remains in these areas, and people from containment zones are not permitted to venture out. This makes one wonder how much reopening the state would actually benefit the economy, if workforce living in containment zones in these economic hubs is not permitted to take part in economic activity in the first place.

When it comes to Ahmedabad, restrictions remain on the eastern side of the Sabarmati river where there are containment zones. However, relaxations have been offered to shops and establishments on the western side. And while state transport buses will ply across Gujarat, they will not be permitted to do so in Ahmedabad. In Surat too, textile markets can only remain open outside containment zones. Diamond industry is to function with 50 percent staff.

While testing has been stepped up, what is being ignored is that several asymptomatic people also carry the virus and are unlikely to be tested because they show no signs of sickness. The infection could thus spread silently. It is also noteworthy that 25 out of 30 private hospitals approached by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation to become Covid facilities have declined to do so. A healthcare crisis is thus brewing in a city with a high rate of infection.

Now, let us take a look at what is permitted in the non-containment zones. All shops and businesses can remain open between 8 AM and 4 PM. However, private offices can only run at 33 percent capacity. Autorickshaws and cab aggregators are allowed to ply with only up to two passengers, except in Ahmedabad and Surat as the infection rate is extremely high in these cities. “All shops including retail stores, salons, barber shops and even shops selling cigarettes and paan can remain open. Shops will be allowed to operate on an odd-even number basis,” informed Gujarat CM Vijay Rupani.


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