An inter-ministerial group of secretaries differs on the approach to be taken to lift the national lockdown though a majority favours a withdrawal of the clampdown as it exists now, two sources familiar with the development told Mint.

India, like the rest of the world, continues to be in uncertain territory as new cases of covid-19, that were sought to be contained with the lockdown here, continue to emerge. As of now, there are 5,095 active cases in the country with 166 deaths.

“The health ministry favours extending the national lockdown. Barring health and a couple of other ministries, most are in favour of lifting the lockdown, doing it gradually with a defined protocol and checks and balances in place,” one of the two sources said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had on Wednesday told the floor leaders of political parties that several state governments, district administrations and experts favoured extending the 21-day lockdown beyond 14 April. He said a final decision would be taken only after his Saturday meeting with state chief ministers.

“The national lockdown, as it exists now, should be lifted. Of course, tracking, tracing, testing and isolating (the affected), all of that should happen but looking at the health of the economy, we cannot afford another lockdown that shuts down everything like what has happened now,” the second source said.

At least seven states have so far expressed their desire to extend the lockdown. Odisha today became the first state to officially declare the extension till the end of this month.

India, despite its relatively lower count of affected people and even lower rate of deaths, went for a long nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of the infection, a move that has won Modi wide praise.

“Lockdown can continue but there are various ways and stages of tackling it. A bigger opening up of certain activities can certainly happen,” an economist told Mint on condition of anonymity.

In the bleakest forecast put out by a financial entity or a rating agency on India’s 2020-21 economic growth, Goldman Sachs on Wednesday said the country’s GDP would plummet to a multi-decade low of 1.6% due to covid-19 pandemic and ensuing measures like the lockdown and social distancing.

Global ratings agency Moody’s had last week pegged the growth for the country at 2.5%, less than half of its previous estimate of 5.3%.

The Modi government finds itself in an unenviable situation amidst conflicting views on lifting the lockdown. Continuing the lockdown is a more popular view but with almost all manufacturing and most services shut, the government is staring at a washout in its revenues this quarter even as it confronts a higher expenditure on social sector schemes.

The government had on Saturday unveiled an aggressive containment strategy that would be scaled down only if no new cases of covid-19 are reported for at least four weeks after the last confirmed test has been isolated and all contacts of the patient have been followed up for 28 days.



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