Lockdown measures are beginning to be revoked in many areas of India, despite cases of COVID-19 surging across the country. Could the removal of lockdown procedures lead to the disease becoming all but uncontrollable?
India’s initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic was both rapid and thorough. A countrywide lockdown was put in place beginning on March 25th — before cases crossed 500.
India’s lockdown guidelines were among the most stringent in the world, according to an analysis by the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford University. While the lockdown may have averted many thousands of additional cases, it has not been implemented without criticism. The lockdown brought India’s economy to a standstill, devastating the lives of many day-labourers and migrant workers.
Many of these workers lost all forms of financial income, often becoming homeless in the process. A mass exodus took place that saw crowds of thousands leaving the cities to return to their home towns and villages rather than face starvation in the locked down cities. This exodus of workers back to locations in rural India may well form one of the key components of India losing control of the fight against COVID-19.
Google mobility reports indicate that India’s quarantine efforts were more stringent, and kept more people at home than in most other countries. Despite this, over the course of two months India’s case count has increased to over 200,000, with nearly 10,000 cases added daily. With lockdown measures set to be eased, this increase in cases could accelerate considerably.
As reported by Health Issues India recently, the Centre continues to cling to claims that community transmission of COVID-19 is not occurring in India. However, according to a report drafted by epidemiologists, public health practitioners and experts in preventive and social medicine, “community transmission is already well-established across large sections or sub-populations in the country.”
Community transmission, particularly in difficult to access, rural locations, could become one of the most critical factors in increasing the number of disease cases in the country. Given time to proliferate across both densely populated urban areas and rural locations with very limited healthcare infrastructure, the disease may be all but impossible to ever eradicate from India.
Given the sheer size of India’s billion-strong population, there is ample opportunity for COVID-19 to continue to spread, eventually mutating into different strains. Should this occur, it is likely the disease will become a seasonal occurrence in a similar manner to the flu.
The analysis by IndiaSpend notes that India may be at a disadvantage compared to other nations when removing lockdown procedures. “Unlike other countries that are lifting the lockdown,” the report states, “India has been unable to effectively utilise the lockdown period to prepare for exiting the lockdown, both in terms of curbing the epidemic and increasing the testing rate, when compared to other countries that are opening the lockdown, our analysis found.”
They also note that while India has substantially increased its volume of tests conducted per day, it is still comparatively low when taken in the context of population size. India increased testing from 1,800 tests per day before the lockdown was imposed to 125,428 tests per day on May 31. IndiaSpend notes that Delhi “has conducted a maximum of 9,600 tests/day (on May 10) or 0.32 tests per 1,000 per day. This stands in contrast to 1.13 in Italy, 1.03 in New Zealand and 1.7 in Denmark–all countries now reopening.”
Due to the low volume of testing compared to population size – coupled with the capacity of COVID-19 to remain asymptomatic in many individuals — it is likely that the true extent of the spread of the virus has yet to be uncovered. With flocks of individuals fleeing the cities with no protective facemasks or other forms of protection, a single individual could have allowed the virus to proliferate throughout the crowd and on to numerous villages across rural regions as individuals return home.
The lockdown has been successful in slowing the spread of COVID-19. However, its effects on the economy have been pronounced. As the dust begins to settle on the lockdown, we will begin to see the true impact the disease has had on people’s livelihoods, small businesses, and the economy as a whole. It is clear to see why both the government and citizens themselves are eager to see the economy reopen, yet this is not without its risks.
Disease cases are spreading faster and there is no sign of a plateau. At the time of writing India has witnessed 276,583 cases of COVID-19, with 7,745 associated deaths. Globally cases are still increasing rapidly, with 7,341,602 total cases, more than two million of which are in the United States. 414,117 have died from the disease, while 3,619,542 have recovered, leaving 3,307,943 currently active cases.