Locking Down 1.3 Billion People: India’s Swift Response to COVID-19

06 Apr 2020
Locking Down 1.3 Billion People: India’s Swift Response to COVID-19
Given India’s dense population, the limited reach of its public healthcare and sanitation infrastructure, and its high poverty and inequality rates, there is concern India will be severely afflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, India’s institutional and community experience with communicable disease outbreaks has encouraged India’s Central and State governments to act swiftly.  This has included measures to prevent the importation of COVID-19, to enforce strict social distancing, and to provide welfare to businesses and industries hit by the commensurate economic downturn.
Following a televised evening address on the 24th March by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India’s 1.3bn people are undertaking a 21-day national lockdown.
Below are ten ways India is responding to COVID-19 (up to Monday 6th April):
  1. COVID-19 Numbers: At 9am Monday 6th April, the Central Government’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare recorded 3666 active cases, 291 cured/discharged and 109 deaths. India’s first reported case was 30 January, and at the time of PM Modi’s lockdown India had 469 recorded cases.
  1. International & interstate import prevention: India’s Central and State Governments have restricted travel into India and applied basic screening measures (including temperature checks and enforced home quarantine) at airports. Some States have implemented such measures since January, for example Tamil Nadu. The timing and efficacy of travel bans and border screening measures have varied across States.
  1. Testing and tracing: India’s testing regime has been limited. At the time of PM Modi’s lockdown address, just over 20,000 tests had occurred (compared with South Korea’s over 270,000). Authorities have principally focused on implementing social distancing measures.
  1. Social distancing: PM Modi declared in his 24 March lockdown address, “We should assume that social distancing is the only way.” India’s national lockdown prohibits social and all but essential economic activity, and all religious services are banned. Before PM Modi’s lockdown, many States had gone into lockdown and/or shut down schools, universities and public events. India’s widespread poverty has meant many Indians cannot stay indoors, let alone work from home. Given the shutdown of transport services, many interstate migrant workers with no temporary residence have attempted to return home in large numbers on foot.
  1. Public communication: PM Modi’s first formal address on COVID-19 was 19 March. Public information campaigns have penetrated every television channel, recorded messages have been sent to India’s 900 million mobile phones and tracking apps are available in multiple languages. States are also providing updates and communication services.
  1. State-by-State: The States of Maharashtra (Mumbai), Tamil Nadu (Chennai), New Delhi and Telangana (Hyderabad) have the most cases. Border screening, testing and tracing and social distancing enforcement varies between States, as does healthcare and welfare provision capacity.
  1. Healthcare & sanitation: Healthcare spending accounts for only 1.3% of GDP in India and the nation’s public healthcare capabilities are significantly constrained. India has eight doctors and seven hospital beds per 10,000 people, compared with China’s 18 and 42 respectively. India has a quarter of America’s ventilators with four times the population. India’s pollution levels increases peoples’ vulnerabilities, and widespread water shortages (160 million Indians lack access to clean water) reduce community hygiene capacity.
  1. Economic impact: India’s lockdown has brought factory production and economic activity across most sectors to a standstill. Major IT companies (India’s largest services export industry) are reporting high working-from-home capacity - including Tata Consultancy Services’ 85% of 400,000 employees and Infosys’ 70% of 200,000 workforce.  The Economist Intelligence Unit has forecast India to grow at just above 2% (down from 6%), avoid a recession and remain the fastest growing G20 economy.
  1. Government stimulus and welfare support: Central Government spending has included a US$23 billion package to provide free food and cash transfers to India’s poorest. Other measures by States include migrant worker wage payments and further farm income subsidies. The informal nature of large swathes of India’s economy challenges the Central and States governments’ capacity to provide targeted assistance. The Reserve Bank of India has reduced interest rates and provided liquidity to markets.
  1. International cooperation: The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) has contributed $18.3 million to an emergency fund, and leaders have met via videoconference to coordinate disease surveillance and research efforts. While India has personal protective equipment (PPE) manufacturing capacity, and is investing in expanding production capacity, foreign sources of PPE are being procured by the Central Government.
The Perth USAsia Centre will continue to provide updates and analysis on crucial developments across the Indo-Pacific region, including developments in India.


Hugo Seymour
Hugo Seymour
Research Analyst
Hugo Seymour is the Research Analyst at the Perth USAsia Centre. He develops content and publishes on Western Australia and Australia's engagement in the Indo-Pacific region.
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