- PM Modi called on states to only consider lockdowns “as the last option”
- From political allies to business leaders, most see it as the only way
- Daily deaths slowed slightly after hitting a record 3,689 on Sunday
Two weeks ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called on states to view lockdowns only “as the last option”. Now everyone from his political allies to big business leaders and US President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser see them as the only way to stem the world’s worst virus outbreak.
The debate was complicated by Prime Minister Modi’s decision last year to impose a nationwide lockdown without warning, which sparked a humanitarian crisis as migrant workers fled on foot to the rural areas. While the Prime Minister is keen to avoid this criticism again, especially after his Bharatiya Janata 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 foreclosure, which equates to economic disaster, or a blockage, which is a public health catastrophe,” said Catherine Blish. , infectious disease specialist and global health expert at Stanford Medicine. California. “What is happening now is a health and economic disaster. If a large part of your population gets 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 reaching a record 3,689 on Sunday, as the number of daily cases exceeded 350,000 in recent days.
The Indian rupee became Asia’s worst-performing currency this quarter after being the best in the previous quarter, as foreigners withdrew about $ 1.8 billion from the country’s stocks and bonds. The benchmark S&P BSE Sensex fell about 1.5% as investors became cautious amid the deadly outbreak.
India’s richest banker Uday Kotak, who heads the Confederation of Indian Industry, urged the government to take “the strongest national measures, including reducing economic activity to reduce suffering.” “We have to heed the expert advice on this subject – from India and abroad,” Kotak said.
This represents a change from the main Indian business leaders. In April, a survey of Confederation members showed they were against lockdowns and wanted a quick vaccination. However, over the past month, the collapse of health infrastructure and the growing 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 effective way to break the chain of transmission is to keep people far enough away that the virus cannot pass 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 government has left it up to 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 in close combat have to go out every day to find something to eat or earn a day’s pay, said Kim Mulholland, an Australian pediatrician and head of the infection and immunity group at the Murdoch Children’s 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.
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 back 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, even if it’s difficult in places in India where things can get quite crowded naturally.