The Platform


By any measure, Modi’s government has failed to contain COVID-19.

India, the world’s largest democracy went into lockdown in late March. Cases of COVID-19 had just started to appear in the country. It was supposed to be a 21-day step, an emulation of a tactic adopted worldwide to flatten the curve. The general public was supportive of the move. However, what followed left many people disgruntled.

Lockdowns were adopted as preventive measures around the world. This was based on the rationale that the decongestion of public places would decrease the propensity for community spread. The lockdown was also supposed to give time to the government to ramp up the public health system so that it could bear the burden of a pandemic. The lockdown proved to be the right step in multiple countries. This begs the question about what went wrong with India.

The same can be analyzed on three different fronts. Firstly, the effectiveness of a supposedly improved health infrastructure in managing the number of active cases. Secondly, the migrant labor crisis erupted due to administrative mismanagement which may have potentially caused the asymptomatic spread of the virus. Lastly, considering the exponential increase in the number of active cases is this a good time to lift the lockdown?

In March 2020, the coronavirus crisis exploded in multiple countries around the world. Italy, at that time, was the hardest hit. Its health system was quickly overburdened and the lack of a lockdown gave an impetus to the undetected spread of cases. Since movement was not restricted, the virus had already reached the rural areas by the time the lockdown was enforced. Consequently, people ended up being locked with other carriers of the virus. Thus, despite the lockdown, the spread could not be contained and led to multiple casualties due to the high median population of Italy. The main reason for the spread in Italy can be narrowed down to a lack of widespread testing.

When on March 25th India moved towards a nationwide lockdown, it was believed that the country would learn from the mistakes of other nations. Widespread testing was expected to ensure early detection of cases and consequent prevention. Defying expectations, India continued to have some of the lowest testing rates in the world. No constructive measures were adopted to ensure that hospitals were not overburdened and healthcare workers were safe. PPE’s weren’t provided and the citizens were not given a clear picture of the long-term plan of action of the government for handling the crisis.

International travel wasn’t restricted for an extended period and the quarantine facilities were called out to be inadequate. The result was a rise in the number of cases and the lockdown being extended four times. None of the four, spanning over 70 days, actually accomplished the goal of flattening the curve. Today after ‘Unlock 1’ has been initiated the count is at 340,000 cases with nearly 10,000 deaths in the country.

One of the hardest-hit groups during this time was migrant workers. A major humanitarian crisis emerged as they were left with no form of social security. In this situation, they were forced to move back to their hometowns as survival in the metropolitan cities became impossible. The exodus was unplanned and bereft of governmental support. This led to visuals of migrants walking hundreds of kilometers and crossing state borders because the governments refused to provide them with transport or safety.

When it became evident that the crisis was not one that could not be abated easily, trains were started for the migrant workers. These trains were, however, plagued with delays and had no provisions of water or food. This led to multiple deaths and widespread looting of stations for essential commodities. There was a palpable risk of exacerbation of the spread of coronavirus since the migrants were now moving to villages where medical infrastructure is negligible. Sadly, the country still doesn’t know the effects that this movement had in rural or less developed areas as there isn’t widespread testing.

Rahul Gandhi who is one of the opposition leaders, posted this image to indicate what a failed lockdown looks like. It makes one wonder whether ‘Unlock 1’ is well-timed, as cases continue to rise at a rate of more than 10,000 cases per day. Granting access to public spaces at this point is especially questionable as there are no strict measures in place regarding social distancing and sanitization. The Modi government faces a big challenge today, and they must take a step towards protecting its citizens through better medical infrastructure and an economic stimulus to make sure the country doesn’t suffer more.

Jibran Ahmad Khan is a student at the National Law University. His areas of interest include constitutional law, policy and dispute resolution.