NEW YORK: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s lockdown of India, the world’s second-most populous country, aimed at containing the spread of coronavirus is “belated” and would leave too many poor and homeless people exposed amid increasing cases of the deadly infection, according to an article published in Foreign Policy, a respected American magazine.
“A country that is already grappling with its worst unemployment rate in decades and a rising and divisive nationalism now must deal with a pandemic that will strike a major blow to its economy especially for its so-called informal workers who have no health care, benefits, or safety nets to fall back on,” Rana Ayyub, a noted Indian journalist, wrote in the bi-monthly publication.
While the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, Ms. Ayyub pointed out, India refused to label it a health emergency and placed the country under lockdown on March 24 nearly two weeks later.
“While New Delhi has taken decisive action,” she wrote, “there are fears it has come too late and that too many of the country’s poor and homeless will be left exposed.”
“Even now, the entire country has tested fewer than 30,000 people, representing one of the lowest testing rates in the world.”
Citing Ramanan Laxminarayan, a U.S.-based public health expert, the article said that despite the lockdown, the peak of the pandemic will likely hit I ndia by late April or early May and that around a million people will need hospital beds and critical care at that point.
“This is where disaster could strike,” Ms. Ayyub said, noting that India has just 0.5 hospital beds per 1,000 people (Italy has more than six times as many) and spends just 3.7 percent of its GDP on health (the United States spends 17 percent of its GDP on health care).
Meanwhile, she pointed out that India had allotted large sums of money to build the world’s tallest statues in “an obnoxious display of nationalism.”
Ms. Ayyub wrote, “Last year, Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, put aside $91 million for the construction of a statue of the Hindu deity Ram even as hundreds of people in his state had died of encephalitis in the last few years, with key emergency facilities lacking necessary oxygen cylinders. Adityanath’s stated aim was to build a statue taller than the 597-foot one of the freedom fighter Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, inaugurated by Modi in 2018, which cost $400 million.
“Even when Modi announced his lockdown on March 24 with no mention of how people would get their daily supplies his words sparked panic.