India's lockdown has failed. Now the country is picking it up at the height of the contagion
India comes out of lockdown after two months - at the moment when the number of infections rises the most. This is a high risk, but there is no alternative.
It was 8 p.m. on March 24th when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced to the Indian population: "A single step out of the house can bring a deadly pandemic like Corona into the house." Therefore, according to Modi, a lockdown will be imposed at midnight, one of the toughest in the world.
Two months later, the Prime Minister sounds different: “Corona will be part of our lives for a long time. But we cannot allow our lives to be based solely on Corona. " Domestic flights have been landing in India again since Monday, one of several easing since the beginning of May.
Modi has adapted his rhetoric to the circumstances: India's lockdown has failed. At first the government did not act at all, then hastily. Now she is daring a big experiment: India, a country of 1.3 billion people, lifts its lockdown at the moment when the number of infections increases the most. When Modi imposed the curfew, the number was around 500. It is now over 150,000, with thousands of cases added every day.
First the panic, then the humanitarian drama
The Indian experiment is very risky. Experts assume that the number of new infections will only peak in July. The early easings will accelerate the spread of the virus, causing many additional Covid-19 victims.
The most obvious mistake happened at the beginning. When Modi announced on the evening of March 24th that India would enter an almost complete lockdown within four hours, he caused panic. The panic was followed by humanitarian drama: while the Indian upper class holed up in the “gated communities”, the cities repelled millions of day laborers like foreign bodies. Hundreds of thousands migrated back to their home villages. Many did not even have the money to buy food because they no longer had any income.
It was a drama that the government could have mitigated had it better planned the lockdown. The first corona case in India was detected on January 30th. In the following weeks, it was not the virus that was the big political issue, but the upcoming state visit by American President Donald Trump. On March 13, two days after the WHO declared Covid-19 a pandemic, the Ministry of Health announced that the disease did not mean a health emergency.
Lockdown came eleven days later. The government looked headless. Their approach was reminiscent of the cash reform in 2016, which was also planned chaotically and destroyed hundreds of thousands of jobs.
120 million jobs were lost in April
Yet the government cannot be blamed for the full extent of the drama. Even with better planning, it would have been questionable how a country with more than a billion inhabitants, 80 to 90 percent of whom work in informality and have virtually no provisions, could survive a lockdown without any problems.
The social and economic costs are horrific: in April alone, over 120 million Indians lost their jobs. Maintaining the strict curfew would have meant literally starving thousands.
The Indian lockdown has failed. Picking it up is still correct. A wandering government has no choice.
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