On 24 March 2020, the Government of India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a nationwide lockdown for 21 days, limiting movement of the entire 1.3 billion population of India as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 pandemic in India. It was ordered after a 14-hour voluntary Janata curfew on 22 March, followed by enforcement of a series of regulations in the country’s COVID-19 affected regions. The lockdown was placed when the number of confirmed positive coronavirus cases in India was approximately 500.
The purpose of lockdown was:
- To flatten the rising curve of the number of people who were infected, which would keep the mortality in control and postpone this rise by a few days or even months
- To give us time to ramp up our medical infrastructure so that we can cope with the patients requiring critical care, who we are likely to get when the cases start rising.
Execution of Lockdown
Phase 1 (25 March – 14 April):
- On 25 March, the first day of the lockdown, nearly all services and factories were suspended.
- On 26 March, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced a ₹170,000 crore (US$24 billion) stimulus package to help those affected by the lockdown.
- On 27 March, the Reserve Bank of India announced a slew of measures to help mitigate the economic impacts of the lockdown.
- From 31 March Indian railways suspended passenger trains.
Phase 2 (15 April – 3 May):
- On 14 April, PM Modi extended the nationwide lockdown till 3 May, with a conditional relaxation
- On 16 April, lockdown areas were classified as Red Zone, Orange Zone, Green Zone.
- On 29 April, The Ministry of Home Affairs issued guidelines for the states to allow inter-state movement of the stranded persons.
Phase 3 (4–17 May):
- On 1 May, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and the Government of India (GoI) further extended the lockdown period to two weeks.
- On May 2nd red zones (130 districts), orange zones (284 districts) and green zones (319 districts).
- On May 12th Prime minister Narendra Modi Announced 20 lakh crore package.
Phase 4 (18–31 May):
- On 17 May, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) extended the lockdown for a period for two weeks.
The Good: Early lockdown measures
The lockdown in India was quite early on, when there was relatively a small number of cases detected. This was really a far-sighted decision because it gave the whole country the opportunity to come to terms with the reality of this enemy. People understood that there is a virus in our midst. It gave time to develop capacities at the local level for interrupting transmission and sorting out hospitals.
When the outbreak began in February, India, a country of over 130 crore people, had only one lab equipped to conduct the COVID-19 test. But within four months, the number of labs, certified to conduct the coronavirus test, has risen to 1,301. This also includes the private labs who have acquired test kits and have joined the fight against coronavirus.
The pollution level in India’s five most-polluted cities, which are also in the top 10 globally, came down by over 50 per cent during the first 10 days of the lockdown imposed to combat COVID-19 outbreak, a new Greenpeace India analysis has found.
The Bad: Not enough testing and PPE kits
While India’s aggressive lockdown and social distancing measures were praised by the World Health Organization, the country’s initial response was lacking in another crucial area: testing.
Home to more than 1.3 billion people, India’s testing regime per capita was always likely to rate low, although it has increased the number of daily tests from around 5,000 in late March to just under 300,000. The country appears to now be paying the price for its slow start.
PPEs are a crucial medical resource for frontline workers during the pandemic that includes body coveralls, N-95 masks, goggles, face shields among others. All components of PPE were found to be either inadequately available or unavailable in most hospitals.
The Worse: Affected Migrant worker and National Economy
When India’s lockdown was announced, the government gave just a few hours notice, leaving millions of migrant workers who live hand-to-mouth without an income, and construction sites/factories closed down.
With factories and workplaces shut down due to the lockdown imposed in the country, millions of migrant workers had to deal with the loss of income, food shortages and uncertainty about their future. Following this, many of them and their families went hungry. Thousands of them then began walking back home, with no means of transport due to the lockdown. In response More than 300 migrant workers died due to the lockdown, with reasons ranging from starvation, suicides, exhaustion, road and rail accidents, police brutality and denial of timely medical care.
Incomes of almost 85% of households in the national capital region (NCR) have been impacted by the lockdown, according to a survey released by the National Council for Applied Economic Research (NCAER).
India’s industrial production dropped sharply in April when the country went into lockdown and most factories were not in operation. That includes sectors such as mining, manufacturing, and electricity. Manufacturing of consumer durables saw the sharpest decline for the month. India’s gross domestic product (GDP) has decreased to 3.2%.
Why the lockdown could be a big failure!
The government has failed to use the lockdown to facilitate the shortage of personal protective equipment. In his speech the prime minister explained that domestic manufacturers could produce “two lakh N-95 masks” per day. But this is a small number by global standards. Figures from the US suggest that, under best practices, hospitals may require as many as 35-40 masks per day per patient. Even if masks are rationed and reused, domestic manufacturing capacity is insufficient to meet the demand from the increasing number of cases.
On the other hand, the primary responsibility of the state is to rapidly identify infected individuals through testing, and trace and isolate their contacts to prevent them from spreading the infection. At a national level, it is clear that the lockdown has not been used effectively for this purpose.
PM Modi has been claiming that we would have lost a lot more lives without the lockdown. That is true. But it is not good enough. We have lost over 50,000 lives and if we continue at this rate, we could easily lose a few lakh lives by the end of this year.
The worst thing was of course migrant laborers, whom the government should have allowed to return home in the first place. Trying to prevent them from returning home initially only spread Covid further among them, and now they’re spreading it in their home states.
Prominent persons who feel the lockdown may be a failure in India
While countries across the globe have resorted to lockdowns to curb the spread of the deadly coronavirus in the absence of a cure, prominent names in India believe the measure may not be successful in the country.
Nobel laureates Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, in an interview with The Indian Express, said that the lockdown may slow down the spread of the virus but the government would find it difficult to control once it enters the urban slums.
that lives and livelihoods of India’s poor are at stake, it has become even more important to help them to avoid large scale defiance of lockdown orders, as starving people have little to lose. “We need to do what it takes to reassure people that society does care and that their minimum well-being should be secure,” Amartya Sen
Former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan, in an interview with Bloomberg, said that magnitude of the problem will only increase in locked-down India as the country lacks the infrastructure needed to deal with an issue like COVID-19. He insisted on using all resources to tackle the crisis.
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