NEW DELHI :
The nationwide voluntary 14-hour self-quarantine exercise-Janata Curfew- that was supposed to be only for Sunday has now transformed into a complete lock down in various states, raising varied concerns for the 1.3 billion population of India.
A pre-emption of the lock down led people to stock up on essential items, such as food, milk anything and everything that doesn’t have a shelf value, despite government’s appeal not to hoard products.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday gently nudged Indians to “stay home’ for preventing spread of covid-19 pandemic without engineering panic but later in the evening put a complete lock down in states reporting cases and deaths related to covid-19. The unrest after the lockdown among the world’s largest democracy is visible.
A 25-year-old man working in a software company wants to go back to his home town in Chandigarh as his company has closed the office for operations. “I am making all calculations to leave Delhi and work from my hometown. I am not getting taxis, those available are charging tripe rates. My parents are also alone," he said.
Another woman has quit her job in Delhi and wants to leave for Mumbai on Tuesday with her two kids to be a housewife for a while till coronavirus scare settles down. “I am facing major problems. The society was already locked down due to a covid-19 positive patient, not the states are
implementing laws for restricting movement. Flights status is also a problem," she said.
“Social distancing and self-quarantine, despite their immeasurable importance right now, are inherently unequal in their potential costs, benefits and impact to people. Temporary emergency measures are bitter pills even developing nations must take," Ashish Bharadwaj, Dean of Jindal School of Banking & Finance.
While corporate companies across India have given their employees work from home, fates of unorganised sector such as house helps, daily wage labourers hang in balance. India is still a developing nation with a major chunk of population “going out" to work.
“The Janata curfew was a way to prepare Indians for a lockdown. It's at the moment a gentle nudge without engineering panic. The PM has already warned of tough times and the need to focus on citizens duties," said Sonali Chitalkar, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Miranda House, Delhi University.
While Countries around the world are implementing measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus, from national quarantines to school closures to sealing off borders, the testing time for India has come. “India is capable of withstanding a short lockdown but we need to be thinking and acting beyond that - perhaps a longer lockdown is imminent in the near future looking at the global corona spiking trends post stage 2 of community transmission," Ashwajit Singh, Managing Director, IPE Global, an international health consultancy said.
The impact is foreseen on the most marginalised population of India and the poor. Human rights and health economists have called for major announcements around economic packages to support this shutdown and economic revival. “This should not only cover daily wagers and employees but business houses that are supporting their regular employees during this period," said Singh.
However, as the enormity of the pandemic is unfolding, it is clear that it will significantly affect the poor and marginalised who represent nearly two-thirds of India’s population. Experts have said that as majority of them working in the informal sector face the risk of losing their livelihoods. This will only further add to their predicament. “In this event of public health emergency due to covid-19 the poor, homeless and marginalized are more vulnerable due to poor nutrition, lack of hygiene, close proximity to people and exposure to surfaces that may carry the infection," said Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director Population Foundation of India (PFI).
“In a densely populated country like India where majority of poor living in small clustered houses, it is also very difficult to maintain the required hygiene standards to prevent covid-19. The poor are doubly at risk: to themselves and to others they might interact with, said Muttreja adding that it is extremely challenging for the urban poor living in slums, sometimes in single rooms with common toilets, to follow the advisory on practicing social distancing, work from home, and self-quarantine in the event of symptoms.