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Narendra Modi resists pressure to lockdown India as virus deaths rise

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Two weeks ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called on states to consider lockdowns only as the last option. Now everyone from his political allies to big business leaders and chief medical adviser to US President Joe Bidens see them as the only way to stem the world’s worst virus outbreak.

The debate has been complicated by Modis’ decision last year to impose a nationwide lockdown without warning, which sparked a humanitarian crisis as migrant workers fled on foot to rural areas . While Modi is keen to avoid such criticism again, especially after his party failed to win an election in West Bengal when the votes were counted on Sunday, even states led by his party are ignoring his advice.

One of the problems is this false narrative that it is either a complete lockdown, which equates to economic disaster, or a lockdown, which is a public health disaster, said Catherine Blish, a specialist. of infectious diseases and global health expert at Stanford Medicine in California. What is happening now is a health and economic disaster. If whole swathes of your population get sick, it is not good for your population or your economy.

Over the past week, TV channels and social media have been inundated with grim scenes of overcrowded crematoriums and desperate demands for hospital oxygen. Daily deaths in India slowed slightly after hitting a record 3,689 on Sunday, while the number of daily cases has remained above 350,000 in recent days.

India’s richest banker Uday Kotak, who heads the Confederation of Indian Industry, urged the government to deploy the military to help treat patients and take the strongest national measures, including by reducing economic activity to reduce suffering. We have to take into account the opinions of experts on this subject – from India and abroad, he said.

This represents a change from the main Indian business leaders. In April, a survey of members of the confederations showed they were against lockdowns and wanted a quick vaccination. However, over the past month, the collapse of health infrastructure and the rising number of deaths have revealed the scale of the crisis. A lack of adequate vaccine doses only added to the chaos.

Although policymakers have indicated they are ready to take action to support growth, economists say failure to flatten the curve of the virus could put pressure on monetary and fiscal policies at a time when the major part of the conventional space available has already been used.

The most immediate effective way to break the chain of transmission is to keep people far enough away that the virus cannot jump between them. Some experts, including Anthony S. Fauci, the leading American physician specializing in infectious diseases, believe that a temporary stop is important.

But others say a full national lockdown is not possible and would be disastrous for the poor, who have already suffered the most during the outbreak. The federal government has left it up to the states to decide on local lockdowns, and places like the national capital Delhi and the financial hub of Mumbai have imposed restrictions – though they are less stringent than last year.

People who live hand-to-mouth have to go out every day to find something to eat or earn a day’s pay, said Kim Mulholland, Australian pediatrician and head of the infection and immunity group at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute in Melbourne.

As hospitals battle for oxygen and bodies pile up in crematoriums, a blanket lockdown can only add to the misery. A sudden loss of livelihood can again cause an influx of workers from cities to their home towns and villages, also helping the virus to spread to the hinterland.

A relative collects the ashes of a Covid-19 death a day after performing the final rites at a crematorium in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India on Monday, May 3, 2021. India’s second fierce wave overwhelmed the system Nations health care system, with infections reaching 400,000 cases a day and hospitals lacking beds, oxygen and medical supplies.

Instead of a strict shutdown, experts said, local governments could shut down activities where it is difficult to maintain social distancing.

I would absolutely cut down on indoor retail, restaurants, stores, as much as possible, anything that gets people to gather indoors, said Ashish Jha, Dean of Brown University School of Public Health. I would absolutely ban all large outside congregations, although that is difficult in places in India where things can get quite crowded naturally.

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