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Saturday, July 11, 2020

India Fights COVID19: The Surging Numbers & Lockdowns Galore!


Similar to the three formats in the game of cricket Lockdowns in India are also under transformation from traditionally longer duration to shorter and the shortest. Various terms are coming up with the local necessities brought on by the surging new cases of COVID19: Sunday lockdowns, mini lockdowns like the week-end ones, 7-10 days lockdowns and the longest ones mostly at national level. The national lockdown since 25th March is still in force in all containment zones till at least 31st July. Lockdowns of different formats are under enforcement at the moment in more than 11 states of the country including various parts/districts of Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Assam, Karnataka, Telengana, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and others. In the last twenty-four hours new cases in India were more than 27000 with Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Karnataka, West Bengal and Assam registering the highest spikes. The peak of COVID19 in India is somewhat eluding still and the reasons for this we can guess as we go on with this piece.

The worst affected countries of Europe, although started lockdowns late, enforced the strictest lockdowns till the peak was reached and the numbers started declining; no relaxations were given during the period except for essentials. But India, although lockdown was imposed early, was bent upon giving relaxations from the second lockdown onward in view of economic or livelihood considerations and this strategy is basically responsible for the delayed peak which should have been reached at least in Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai by now. Further, new guidelines for doing more and more tests including rapid antigen tests and even door-door tests in some parts are also contributing to this. We had mentioned such points in our earlier pieces. Now, let us consider how much success has been achieved for livelihoods and economic momentum so far.

With trains, buses and planes operating, e-commerce of both essentials and non-essentials brightening up and factories/industries/private offices/markets/malls reopening in various parts of the country the economy was steadily easing with people returning to work following the precautions and advisories. However, the continuing spikes breaching the 20-thousand mark, 25-thousand mark in the last few days frightened many of the state governments leading to the enforcement of lockdown of different formats, and this unpredictable policy is disrupting the livelihood activities and the smooth flow of the easing-up economy. For example, factories/industries/private offices under smooth operation have suddenly to adapt to the new directions resulting in less attendance and disruption. In Thane, adjacent to Mumbai, the municipal corporation suddenly imposed total lockdown for ten days which again got extended till 19th July in view of heavy spike in new cases, and this decision has led to disruptions of various types: e-commerce of non-essentials that was almost normalized got stopped again; shops and markets coming back to a new-normal have to close shutters again and all sorts of public/private transport services in a very uncertain state. Naturally, such disruptions do not remain restricted only to the affected locality due to the interlinks of businesses, operations, activities and transportation.

With an eluding peak uncertainty is increasing. Unemployment is on the rise worryingly, small shopkeepers and vendors going back to their villages due to uncertain work opportunities, the scare of further retrenchment and sacks growing in various sectors like the hospitality, the film/entertainment industry, e-commerce, private firms and business/marketing establishments, transport services and the media—particularly in the print media. Besides, other stakeholders like small shopkeepers, tea and snack vendors, the laundry, newspaper agents, the barber shops etc. are yet to be back in business in most areas due to the national lockdown, pointing towards a bleak future. Therefore, unfortunately, the lock-down-strategy adopted by India is not paying the expected dividends to the desired extent in both fields—containment of the virus and boosting livelihoods and economy.

However, hope is not running out. The scare of rising numbers is somewhat neutralized by a very healthy recovery rate which is now more than 62%, in Delhi it has crossed 70% mark. Out of a little more than 8,20,000 total infections in India at the moment more than 5,00,000 have already recovered leaving around 3,00,000 active cases, and this number is not very imposing for the enhanced healthcare infrastructure of the country except for some states like West Bengal and Assam. Further, the death rate is also coming down to around 2.7% from about 3.1% a few days ago. Therefore, when the peaks are reached, hopefully within a month, in various parts at various times the country should still be able to defeat the virus spread and slowly return to a new normal state of affairs. 

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