On 14th April, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced an extension to the nationwide lockdown as a necessary precaution against the dreaded COVID-19 epidemic in an internationally lauded move. But what effects would such a lockdown have on the Indian populace?
First off, it is definitely not safe to assume that this is the last lockdown extension in India’s future. With countries like China and Singapore seeing a resurgence in cases, and India’s own graph only climbing upwards, people have to accept the harsh truth that this could go on for a lot longer than previously thought.
That being said, there are definitely going to be relaxations and resumption of some forms of economic productivity, as most of the populace is not privileged enough to work from home. The government has said it will allow agricultural businesses to open, including dairy, aquaculture, tea, coffee and rubber plantations, as well as shops selling farming products – such as fertilisers or machinery. Public works programmes, which are a crucial source of employment for daily-wage earners, will also reopen, but under strict instructions to follow social distancing norms.
Trucks, trains and planes carrying cargo will also be allowed to operate as India has faced a supply crunch in recent weeks with goods being stuck at state borders. Courier services are also set to resume from the 20th of April onwards. Banks will also reopen, as will government centres distributing social security benefits and pensions. These measures come in as a sigh of relief to the most-affected, elderly pensioners and out-of-work labourers.
Speaking of labourers, an issue posed by a lockdown extension is an increased sense of insecurity and fear amongst migrant workers. In Mumbai, hundreds of workers defied social distancing protocols and gathered at Bandra station hoping to go home to their villages, and had to be dispersed by the Mumbai Police. Such workers, already having shaky sources of income, are finding it difficult to cope in a quarantined world. Apart from public donations, government support has to be provided.
The educational implications must also be taken note of. Though some schools are trying to conduct online classes, these aren’t possible in most places due to the schools’ and students’ lack of a high level of economic development and technological access. Various college entrances have been postponed, some are looking to be cancelled altogether, worried parents who have spent large sums of money on schools and coaching. Young students stuck inside all day forced to look at a screen are also reporting a decline in mental health.
A relaxation of the lockdown has also been mentioned, in regions that succeed in bringing down their cases. The problem here is that there is insufficient testing, and the tests themselves are not 100% reliable and have a 47% chance of yielding a false COVID-negative result. If the government succumbs to public pressure and releases lockdown earlier than necessary, India might be walking on the path towards a worsening of the epidemic.