With India’s lockdown scheduled to end on April 14, there are widespread discussions about an extension. On April 11, Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a video conference meeting with around 13 Chief Minister’s, wherein they urged to extend the lockdown considering the situation in India.
On March 25, India shut its 2.9 trillion dollar economy, closing its businesses and issuing strict stay-at-home orders to its population of 1.37 billion. Air, road and rail and all transport networks were suspended.
Nearly two months after the first COVID-19 case was detected in the country, more than 7,500 positive cases have been recorded with a death toll of 308. As testing has been ramped up, the true picture is emerging. The virus is spreading through the densely populated communities, and every day a new cluster is being reported. Lifting the lockdown could easily risk triggering a fresh wave of infections.
A stringent lockdown is what the nation needs now. Experts believe that India is in its early stage of infection, wherein the country is yet to have a robust data on the transmissibility of the COVID-19 or even, how many could have been infected and recovered to develop a sufficient crowd immunity.
Out of 700 districts in the country, over 250 have already reported the infection. As per the reports, at least seven states have a third of all diseases, six states have reported clusters of rapidly spreading infections – from the capital Delhi in the north to Maharashtra in the west and Tamil Nadu in the south.
The economy around the globe is suffering due to this virus and India is not an exception. Many of the early hotspots are economic growth engines of the country that contribute profoundly in revenues to the exchequer.
Mumbai, India’s financial capital values for more than a third of overall tax collection.
The densely populated city as on April 13, had recorded 82 new cases totalling the positive cases over 2,000 with a death toll of 149, and the numbers are growing exponentially. Authorities say the infection is now spreading through the community. Mumbai now has made wearing face masks mandatory.
Many of the hotspot clusters in this city are also thriving manufacturing bases. The spread of infection means that they will be following lockdown for a longer period.
The services industry, which generates around 54.40 per cent of India’s GVA (Gross Value Added), is also likely to remain shut for some time. The construction industry, which employs a bulk of migrant workers, will also continue to remain suspended. According to a report by the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy, the unemployment rate might have climbed to more than 20 per cent after the lockdown.
Economists suggest that the Government should prioritize the agriculture sector, for the time being, to ensure the livelihoods of millions are protected and also to secure the country’s future food supply.
More than 50 per cent of the Indian labour force is depended on farming and allied activities. The virus and the lockdown hit the nation when the winter crop was suppose to be harvested and sold. Moreover, it is the time when the rain-fed summer crop had to be sowed. The pressing challenge is to harvest and market the first crop and secure the second.
The transportation of these crops from the villages to the market is a challenge considering the lockdown and social distancing norms prevailing in the country. Economist says that it is crucial to ensure that rural India is not hit. Keeping India completely locked down beyond May isn’t a choice, so it will have to be lifted.
Currently, experts believe that lockdown can be lifted in a graded manner in areas that are not hotspots, while the hotspots continue to remain contained.
As Gabriel Leung, an infectious disease epidemiologist and dean of medicine at the University of Hong Kong said, India will have to follow the method which the other infected countries have adopted– several rounds of “suppress and lift” cycles.
In order to control the pandemic, a series of restriction and relaxation will have to be accompanied, to reduce the impact on the economy and social life.
Economists call the current situation as a ‘tug of war’ between combating the disease, protecting the economy and keeping society at an even keel. They say it all depends on a particular country as to how they deal with the virus.
It is clear that lockdown has to be continued to contain the virus until the testing and health infrastructure is scaled up to manage the outbreak.
Experts from the Southern state of Kerala, which has been successful in contain the virus to a large extend, recommend that lifting lockdown should be done in a phased manner.
For most of the countries lifting the lockdown is a challenging task as it might spark a sudden rise in the infection and presents the inevitable trade-off between lives and livelihoods.
Lifting Lockdown: A Tough task for India
It is going to be tougher for India with its vast population, densely packed and enervated public health system. Also, India has one of the world’s highest inter-state migration of casual workers, who are the backbone of the services and construction industries.
How will India manage to return these labourers to their workplace – without a substantial easing of public transport at a time when crowded trains and buses can be a vector of transmission and quickly neutralise the gains of the lockdown? Even if measures are taken to check the virus, Indian public transport could be key in routing the situation to square one within a day or two.
It is a tough fight for India to make policies in this situation. India fumbled the lockdown by not anticipating the exodus of millions of migrant workers from cities. The upcoming weeks will reveal whether the fleeing migrants carried the infection to their villages. The country simply cannot afford to make similar mistakes again while trying to relax the lockdown.
The Indian government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, now needs to make sure that the looming threat to the nation’s health and economic progress is tackled skillfully. PM Modi will address the nation 10 am tomorrow. The 21-day nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus ends tomorrow, April 14, and it is expected that he is likely to talk about its possible extension.