The nationwide lockdown due to the COVID-19 outbreak has been extended for two more weeks i.e. until the 17th of May 2020. Prior to the announcement, many including Infosys founder Narayana Murthy were against the extension of the lockdown.
India is in the middle of a strange situation. While the Health Ministry repeatedly assures in its briefing that the situation is under control as the rate of infection keeps coming down, the citizens refuse to make sense of the extension of the lockdown if the situation is really under control. There have been two contrary opinions, both strong and carries meat – one section is batting for the relaxation of the lockdown and opening up of businesses and the other which prefers lives over livelihood. Even the Infosys founder came out supporting the former opinion.
Murthy claimed that if the lockdown will continue, it is likely to claim more lives than the novel coronavirus. Murthy asked people to accept the COVID-19 situation as the new normal and return to work as soon as possible. He urged the government to follow a data-driven approach while relaxing the lockdown.
An extended lockdown further injures India
It has been over 40 days since India has officially shut its businesses. Some of the businesses, as a precautionary measure, had shut before the announcement of the nationwide lockdown. It was expected that in the first phase of the lockdown, India will be able to contain the spread after which lives would return back to normal. It happened quite the opposite. Even though the Health Ministry tries to play the problem down, India has seen a steep rise in the number of cases that may have been a result of rampant testing and other factors.
India’s informal sector that has no option of operating from home has come to a halt. As per the statistics, 190 million Indians work in the informal sector. As most of it is non-contracted jobs, it is highly unlikely that people may have retained their jobs. The Center for Monitoring Indian Economy has estimated 30.9 percent of unemployment in the urban areas alone. Apart from unemployment, massive pay cuts for employees have also kept less money in the pockets of the spending class.
When a certain business goes bankrupt, it is likely to bring down other business with them. Even though it is quite easy to bank on the government agency to keep these businesses afloat, it isn’t practical to think every small and medium business can be kept afloat. A lengthier lockdown also means the big businesses look to substitute human work by technology which, in the long run, will eliminate a section of skilled people from work. Even though the lockdown is lifted in a staggered manner, bringing the pace of working and working ethic back on track has its buffer time that would affect the economy in its own way.
Lifting the lockdown isn’t an option too
The Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics, and Policy have come out with a report on the statistics of the Indian public healthcare system. According to the report, it estimates that there are a total of 1.9 million hospital beds in both public and private sectors combined. Among them, 95 thousand are Intensive Care Unit beds out of which 48 thousand have ventilators.
India has currently confirmed 37,412 positive cases with 26,115 still active. While the majority of the treatments are happening in public hospitals, the private players are yet to actively participate which implies that there as few as 30,000-40,000 ICU beds available right now. As per the CDDEP, in a moderate lockdown i.e. relaxed state of lockdown, there might be 13.5 crore Indians infected with the virus by September out of which 19 lakhs may require hospitalization. The total number of beds available, combining both private and public sector, itself is around 19 lakhs. This also includes patients who are suffering from other diseases who might need hospitalization. If this happens, India will be in a massive crisis, one like that of Italy where it has to choose who gets to live.
As said earlier, there is weightage in the arguments of both the sections. While India needs to come out of lockdown sooner to save its economy, it is also true to save lives first before livelihood. Probably, before India can think about an exit plan, it needs to understand the problem completely and come up with a strategy that is beyond testing, tracing, and isolating. India had over 40 days of cooperated lockdown time in its hands to figuring out an exit plan, it hasn’t. It looks like this is the last chance for India.