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PM's warm words fail to calm India's Covid-19 panic

More than one person is dying from the virus every minute as Modi tries to avoid lockdowns

Nirendra Dev, New Delhi

Nirendra Dev, New Delhi

Published: April 21, 2021 10:28 AM GMT

Updated: April 21, 2021 12:56 PM GMT

PM's warm words fail to calm India's Covid-19 panic

A man tapes a notice reading 'Covishield out of stock' at a vaccination centre in Mumbai on April 20 amid rising Covid-19 cases across India. (Photo: AFP)

As the Covid-19 pandemic spirals out of control, India is recording the deaths of more than one person per minute due to the coronavirus.

While on average 60 people died from the virus every hour on April 18, the figure jumped to 67 deaths per hour on April 19 and 73 on April 20, according to data from the federal Health Ministry.

Leading brokerages have downgraded India's GDP growth projections as Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeks to avoid a nationwide lockdown.

Several provincial governments are resorting to lockdowns. The city government in national capital New Delhi announced a six-day lockdown on April 19, while the country's most industrialized state Maharashtra has imposed a curfew-like situation from April 14 to May 1.

Modi made a televised national broadcast on April 20 urging citizens and state governments to avoid lockdowns.

"We have to save the country from a lockdown,” the PM said in a 20-minute address while advising citizens to stay indoors if there is no urgency to go outside.

He also asked people to be careful that family elders do not go outside unless there is an urgent need.

Although the PM aimed to give a 'do not panic' message to the people, others do not seem to endorse his optimism

Ironically, it was Modi who imposed a 68-day nationwide lockdown in March 2020 that left India's economy crippled. While the federal government is now worried about the economy and has grown wary of lockdowns as a tool to fight the pandemic, most states seem to think otherwise.

In Maharashtra, even the restrictions on movement and gatherings in the curfew-like situation have not helped improve the situation.

Maharashtra’s Health Minister Rajesh Tope said that all ministers have requested Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray to impose a “complete lockdown” as soon as possible. “We have made our request. Now it is up to the chief minister to take the final call.”

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Another Maharashtra minister, Aslam Shaikh, said: "Maharashtra is certainly heading for lockdown.”

Taking cognizance of Modi’s appeal for general help to fight Covid-19, the Tata Group has announced that it will import 24 cryogenic containers to transport liquid oxygen.

"PM Narendra Modi's appeal to the people of India is laudatory and we at the Tata Group are committed to doing as much as possible to strengthen the fight against Covid-19. To mitigate the oxygen crisis, here is one such effort to boost health infrastructure," India’s leading business house tweeted.

Although the PM aimed to give a "do not panic" message to the people, others do not seem to endorse his optimism.

“I would urge the states to use lockdowns as a last resort. Our focus should be on micro-containment zones ... We will take care of the economic health [of the country] as well as the health of the people," said Modi.

Congress spokesman Ajoy Kumar was not convinced by the PM’s words.

"Contrary to what the prime minister has tried to say, there is every reason to panic. There is a panic-like situation everywhere, including in smaller states like Jharkhand," he said.

Kumar said things have only worsened as in many places, including commercial capital Mumbai and capital New Delhi, there is a shortage of medicines, oxygen and other health infrastructure.

"The prime minister's speech has not given us any confidence ...," said another Congress leader, Rashid Ali.

Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi, the daughter of party president Sonia Gandhi, said the oxygen shortage is a man-made situation.

“The problem is with the supply crisis. Oxygen is available in the country, but there are not enough trucks to carry them to various parts of India," she said.

Even for white-collar jobs and those who can manage to work from home through the internet, there has been a drop in salaries

The United Kingdom has already added India to its travel "red list" on a precautionary basis.

The United States' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also advised Americans to avoid traveling to India.

Besides the crippled economy posing a serious challenge to the government, the pandemic has brought related impacts on other fronts.

The labor market has still not recovered from its 2020 shocks, especially in the context of unemployment, and the fear of enhanced lockdowns in major cities is bound to impact the workforce at various levels.

"Even for white-collar jobs and those who can manage to work from home through the internet, there has been a drop in salaries,” said analyst Vidyarthi Kumar.

With the surge in Covid-19 cases posing risks to economic recovery, leading brokerages have downgraded India's GDP growth projections.

Nomura has cut its forecast of economic growth for the fiscal year ending March 2022 to 12.6 percent from 13.5 percent, JP Morgan now projects GDP growth at 11 percent, while UBS sees growth of only 10 percent.

India had reported 15.6 million coronavirus cases and 182,570 deaths as of April 21. Only the United States has had more cases.

VIDEO: Delhi's health system reaches limits

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