After observing a day-long ‘Janta Curfew’ on March 22 on a call from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, fifty-four year old Rajesh Solanki clapped and clanged utensils along with his family members joining the nation in expressing gratitude towards the doctors, nurses and others, who are on the frontline of the battle against the novel coronavirus in the country.
And, he hopes that lighting of candles and lamps, exactly the way the Prime Minister exhorted the countrymen to do at 9 pm on the 9th day of the nationwide “lockdown” on April 5, would help “dispel the darkness” spread by the highly contagious virus which has killed over 59,000 people across the globe so far and the death toll continue to rise with thousands of people being tested positive every day since it originated from Wuhan in China in December last.
“I would certainly follow what our Prime Minister has asked people of this country to do. What’s wrong in doing so? Prime Minister is working day and night to somehow save our country from the potential damage that the coronavirus can cause. He just wants us to stand together in this fight against the deadly virus,” Solanki, who runs a grocery shop in Palam area of the national capital, said.
His son Amrit, who is employed with a private company in Information technology (IT) sector, seconds Solanki’s view and optimism but doubts if it was possible for the government to contain the spread of the virus soon in a densely populated country of 130 crore people.
Anticipating that virus containment efforts may take several months to conclude, he is worried about the impact of the pandemic on the country’s economy and his future with the economists predicting a global slowdown due to coronavirus outbreak indicating that India would be among those to be the worst hit.
The contagious virus has hit India at a time when it was already witnessing a slowdown.
“My one-year contract with the company is set to expire on April 14. I don’t know if it will be renewed,” he told the Just in Print, “Before the government asked private companies not to cut salary or lay off employees amid the coronavirus outbreak last month, we had been conveyed by our company that there will be salary cut.”
Amrit (name changed on request) is not alone. There are thousands like him facing prospects of job loss or salary cut in wake of coronavirus, or Covic-19, spread in the country.
A 21-day nationwide lockdown, enforced by the government as part of its effort to contain spread of the deadly virus by breaking the chain of infections, has paused wheels of economy. Real estate, travel and tourism, hospitality, manufacturing, automobile and auto-components, MSMEs, consumer durables and capital goods are among a number of sectors badly hit by the lockdown.
The Fitch Ratings, an American credit rating agency of international repute, has indicated that India may post a GDP growth of 2 per cent in 2020-21, the slowest since the economy was liberalised 30 years ago. A number of other reputed international agencies have made a similar cut in growth estimates in recent days on concerns about the fallout of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) sees India’s economic growth sliding down to 4% in the 2020-21. The S&P Global Ratings has further slashed India’s GDP growth forecast to 3.5% from a previous downgrade of 5.2%.
As on April 4, total Covid-19 cases in India climbed up to 3,072 and the death toll reached 75 even as at least 212 patients either recovered or were discharged.
A sudden spike in the cases from April 1 was linked to a recent annual event of a Muslim sect Tablighi Jamaat in Nizamuddin area of the national capital. About 3,500 people had participated in the event from all over the country and abroad.
As many as 647 coronavirus positive cases found in 14 states had links to the Tablighi Jamaat congregation, the Union health ministry said on Friday.
The Union government has asked the States to complete the tracing of people who attended the mid-March meet at South Delhi’s Nizamuddin and their contacts on a “war footing”, observing that it had “increased the risk” of containment efforts of the pandemic.
With the Covid-19 positive cases increasing every day, the Union government faces a dual challenge of containing spread of the contagious virus and saving the economy alongside.
While the prime focus of the government as of now is to contain the virus spread, doctors in hospitals across the country have claimed the lack of proper protective equipment available for medical staff, including basic masks.
Some instances came to the fore where patients showing symptoms of coronavirus were turned away due to lack of proper protective equipment available for medical staff even as the government. At least 50 doctors and medical staff have tested positive for Covid-19 so far.
India’s spending on public health, just 1.3% of its GDP, is among the lowest in the world.
Even as the government, both at the centre and the states, have deployed their entire might to deal with the crisis a recent report, jointly published by three American universities and the Delhi School of Economics, have indicated that India could have as many as 13 lakh coronavirus infections by mid-May.
The Congress demanded that the Union government should empower the State governments by announcing a special economic package of Rs 1 lakh crore and release about Rs 42,000 crore has been due as compensation for the goods and services tax (GST).
The Opposition party also urged the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to offer zero interest loans, pointing out that the States have been at the forefront of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi asked the Union government to scale up testing rather than ‘lighting lamps’.
“India is simply not testing enough to fight the #Covid19 virus. Making people clap and shining torches in the sky isn’t going to solve the problem,” Gandhi tweeted.
The state governments, battling with the pandemic spread, are facing huge challenge of tracking the coronavirus infections and preparing for influx of migrant workers return from the cities including Delhi, Mumbai and other metropolis.
Prime Minister, while holding a meeting with the chief ministers of the states recently through videoconferencing, urged them to brainstorm and send suggestions, stressing that it is important to formulate “a common exit strategy” to ensure “staggered re-emergence” of the population once lockdown ends.
The State governments have been under pressure to set up quarantine and testing facilities, personal protection equipment (PPE), thermal scanners, ventilators, air purifiers and consumables for government hospitals. During their meeting with the Prime Minister, many of them demanded funds to fulfill these requirements. The Union government is yet to respond to their demands.