India needs national lockdown to contain virus

In just two days this week, India reported over 800,000 new Coronavirus cases and over 7,500 deaths, a new record and possibly the worst week for any country since the pandemic began. The shocking statistics are a proof that any talk of India’s second wave peaking soon is wishful thinking.

The pandemic is raging through mega cities, urban centres and has now entered the countryside where, according to media reports, people are simply “dropping dead” in the absence of tests and treatment.

More shockingly, as the world watches in disbelief, few in India trust official Coronavirus statistics. Numerous Indian media reports since last month have pointed out huge gaps between the number of funerals taking place in crematoriums and graveyards and official mortality figures.

Videos circulating on social media show mass funerals on pavements, parking lots and under the bridges. Not just mortalities, new infections are likely to be several times higher due to massive testing backlog, testing hesitancy and crippling diagnostic facilities. This widening gap is likely to derail India’s fight against Covid-19. How can a nation fight the virus if cases and deaths remain under the radar?

Calls are growing for extended national lockdown, rightly so, to break the chain despite the economic pain it is likely to inflict. Last year, according to Pew data, tens of millions of people slipped into poverty due to a brutal lockdown.

Still, the situation is so grim that even merchants’ bodies are supporting shutdowns. Health experts, politicians and even judges have also supported a nationwide shutdown. So far, almost a dozen states have announced some form of movement restrictions and yesterday business and economic hub of Karnataka declared a total shutdown till May 24. Experts say these state-level restrictions are just a patchwork and the government must shut down the country, a step required immediately to contain the outbreak.

While there is no doubt that complacency and missteps led to this ferocious second wave, there is a growing perception that the government’s response to the outbreak is appalling and in some cases insensitive.

Thousands who die every day due to lack of treatment or due to oxygen shortage are denied a dignified funeral, compounding the grief of their kin who are aghast at official apathy. At this juncture, Indians need massive international assistance to ease the pain and misery.

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