More questions than answers . . .
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a nationwide lockdown beginning at midnight on March 25, when the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases had reached 536, including 10 deaths. Despite the announcement, India still needs to iron out many of the wrinkles in its lockdown strategy. Announced just four hours prior to being implemented, the lockdown includes suspension of public transportation and non-essential services. All organizations and offices are now closed, barring medical, police, disaster management, groceries, banking, and other essential services. The rushed lockdown raises a number of questions. How will essential service providers commute to work? How will households with eight or more people in a room practice social distancing? While people are allowed to leave their homes for groceries, medical needs, and banking services, will there be restrictions on when and where they can go? How will the poor be able to purchase anything as prices surge?
Health over economy . . .
Some have lauded the sudden “hard lockdown” as a necessary measure to ensure that the densely packed country can contain the spread of the virus, which is now at the early stages of community transmission. Unlike developed countries, Indians do not receive unemployment benefits or have government-funded health insurance. With one of the world’s largest informal economies (daily wage earners who have no set contracts), the lockdown could turn into significant economic hardship for many. The Modi government aims to implement a temporary universal basic income scheme to aid the most affected, but nothing has been clearly defined. The country’s underfunded medical system, meanwhile, is bracing for an influx of COVID-19 cases as Indians from across the world are returning to the country. India has yet to release an official number of presumptive cases.
Familiar story of racism and discrimination . . .
COVID-19 has sadly brought out racist elements in Canada, where people of Asian origin have faced antagonism. Similarly, racism has reared its ugly head in India as some people with certain facial features have been targeted and called “coronavirus” or “corona,” abused verbally, and sometimes physically. Foreign travellers in India have also faced racism following COVID-19. And medical doctors across India treating COVID-19 patients have been asked to vacate their rental properties for fear of contagion. Threat of legal action from the central government has helped calm the situation.