Travel to Start next week, we expect, Signalling the Road Forward

It is around 55 days of national lockdown, with the entire nation united in our fight against the virus. Of course, there are the usual black sheep; there are also images of our underbelly exposed like we had not ourselves realized. It is now balancing our lives with a livelihood. We cannot remain for long with our hands tied, confined to our homes. Life has to move on. 

Opening the economy is round the corner; it would appear. With 15 train movements already in motion, the road is clear for limited air traffic and inter-state road travel, especially on national highways. At least one state, Karnataka has signalled, according to channel reports, that hotels could be open from next week. Already, in green zones, we have spas and barbershops open.

All these, with the explicit understanding that the new norms will be in place. Strict adherence to them has become necessary as the lurking danger of infections can cause irreparable harm to the business owner as well; it is not just the customer who is under threat. The chance of being sent into isolation goes as much for the staff and the owners. That it is everybody’s concern, staying secure and protected is the responsibility of all, is being sufficiently advertised and increasingly being understood and accepted. 

SOPs are already in place. At the airport, with the airlines, at departure and arrival terminals – travel will be the first litmus test that we, as a people, would be able to learn how to live with the virus. Reasonably reliable reports suggest that this virus may be here to stay, and it is not likely to go away. Life must go on, as the PM said the other day. Countries around the world are opening up, learning to cope with the menace, and ensuring that the virus does not spread. Travel between countries in Europe is opening up from this weekend, much like within our Indian states, as the lockdown gets lifted in stage 4.0. 

Hotels have already released their revised SOPs, the big chains, stand-alone properties and boutique. Typically, these are promoting contact-free engagement, changes in reservation and cancellation policies that allow for virus-related changes without charges, heightened sense of hygiene and cleanliness and do gaaz door in all their endeavours. Images from around the globe have started circulating as to how restaurants have created glass partitions between tables, and similar such innovations will soon start surfacing within India as well. The new challenge among them is to ensure the safety of their guests — all else comes later. 

Our prognosis is simple, it is 9/11 revisited though on a different trajectory. Then it was body scanners and luggage x-ray machines that were introduced. We have now learned to live with them notwithstanding the delays, the inconvenience and often the embarrassment of intimate searches. In fact, on the contrary, we welcome these initiatives as they make us feel safe. The same would be true now of the virus – more hygiene, social distancing, with the protocols of wearing masks, hand gloves, washing hands as often as we can, keeping surfaces clean and virus-proof. The new mantra is that all public places must minimize or eliminate the chance of contracting the wretched virus. Don’t touch anything you don’t need, and stay away from those around you, so simple and yet scary, as these are early days yet. 

With every passing day, our understanding of the Corona Warriors gets richer and expanding. It is, of course, the medical profession, the law and order enforcement agencies, the essential service operators, and in more recent times, the suffering lakhs who had to trudge back home, ironically as they found nobody to fend for them. We must also add the hundreds of senior government officers who have worked day and night, right through these weeks, monitoring movement at the centre and in the states. None of them has had any holiday. Grappling in the dark, making best-case estimates, learning whatever they can about the virus curve and how to respond. It has not been an easy ride, with so much responsibility wresting upon their shoulders, with no best practices behind them to follow. 

Trudging forward, it is travel that is going to be the first uptick. Railways were the first. Other transport sectors will soon open up. Starting limited, but surely, we need to make gradual progress and increase frequency as we go forward. One can only pray to our millions to remain responsible and socially alive, conscious of the few Do and Don’t essentials!  

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