Indian poor COVID strategy condemned worldwide


LONGON (DNA) -India has officially suffered only about 7,500 Covid-19 deaths out of its 1.4bn population. Yet the pandemic’s total human cost there has in many ways already been among the worst in the world. On March 24, prime minister Narendra Modi imposed one of the world’s strictest lockdowns when India still had little over 500 cases, insisting it would “emerge victorious” against the virus. Since late May, the country has been reopening its severely battered economy — even as rising numbers of new infections are overwhelming its hospitals. Mr Modi now says the virus will “remain part of our lives for a long time”. India looks dangerously ill-equipped for that prospect.

The Indian premier’s defenders say he deserves credit for his initial instincts. Unlike Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro who dismissed the virus as a “little flu”, he took the outbreak seriously, and put lives first. Yet the lockdown strategy was badly mishandled. As businesses and shops closed and all public transport abruptly suspended, tens of millions of internal migrant workers in cities immediately lost work. Millions remained stranded in slums and industrial areas with no livelihood. Many set off on foot to their home villages.

The economic impact has been grave. More than 140m people lost jobs; Goldman Sachs estimates the country’s gross domestic product will contract at an annualised rate of 45 per cent in April-June from the previous quarter. India’s first annual recession for 40 years looms.

While the lockdown may have made the country’s curve of new infections less steep so far, however, it has not flattened it. Lockdowns are challenging enough in rich countries; when millions are crammed into slums, sharing communal toilets and water taps, they are acutely difficult to sustain.

Unlike wealthier European economies emerging from shutdown with new cases steadily falling, India’s are still growing. Its seven-day rolling daily average of 9,439 to June 7, according to FT tracking, is exceeded only by Brazil and the US. Health experts warn India’s outbreak may not peak until late July. Millions are emerging from lockdown into an environment where Covid-19 infection is more widespread than when they went in. Migrant workers who use restored public transport to return home now risk spreading the virus more widely into the countryside than if they had been able to relocate before the March shutdown.