A look at Indian government response to coronavirus, so far, shows some quick reactions but not enough foresight
- The Covid-19 pandemic is an unprecedented crisis that has exposed the lack of preparedness among many governments around the world and India is hardly an exception.
- Quantifiable preventive actions and relief measures are as necessary as qualitative calls for safety and social distancing.
- Indian Prime Minister
Narendra Modi's call for ‘janta curfew’ is the latest in a long string of reactions that falls short of ‘taking the bull by the horn’.
‘Janta curfew’ is a unique proposal for a voluntary lockdown to be implemented and supervised by citizens. However, as of now, the voluntary shutdown on Sunday (March 22) looks like a symbolic one that can later be extended, if necessary. People engaged in essential services can continue with their work.
This was a laudable gesture by Modi, especially given the nature of India’s democracy where most people still do not seem to take the coronavirus threat seriously, not yet. However, quantifiable preventive actions and relief measures are as necessary as qualitative calls for safety and social distancing.
What is missing in these are steps to increase testing and detecting potential coronavirus victims to contain further spread. India has tested some 14,175 people from 13,285 individuals as of March 19, a very small number compared to the possible threat of contagion in a country of 1.3 billion people.
There is also a lack of ideas on how to ease the pain in the economy that has been choked in the last few weeks. "It may be advisable to request government to issue an appropriate general order that all actions which under various statutes, notifications,orders have limitations of March 31,2020 ,shall stand extended to 30th April,2020," Ved Jain, former President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants, told Business Insider.
Here’s a look at all the steps taken by the central government in the last few weeks.
Jan 31: Indian Army set up a quarantine facility to monitor 300 Indian students returning from Wuhan in China, the centre of the initial Coronavirus outbreak.
For the next one month, the government was busy with first the Union Budget on Feb 1 followed by the Delhi elections the next week. Soon after that the entire government machinery went on an overdrive preparing for US President Donald Trump's visit to India in the third week, which was followed by the deadly riots in Delhi that had captured the entire nation's attention while the coronavirus was spreading around the world.
Feb 27: Over a month after China’s lockdown of the Wuhan province on Jan 23, special flights of the Indian Air Force and Air India arrived in Delhi with more Indians and foreigners from Wuhan and the quarantined cruise ship Diamond Princess in Japan.
March 11: The World Health Organisation (WHO) formally designated Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) a ‘pandemic’.
March 12: Seven more quarantine facilities set up by Indian Defence Forces are ready in Jaisalmer, Suratgarh, Jhansi, Jodhpur, Deolali, Kolkata and Chennai.
March 13: Indian government notifies masks and hand sanitizers as ‘essential commodity’ until June 30 to check the spiralling prices. The prices had spiked by as much as 20 times on online shopping platforms nearly 8 days before.
India became the fifth country after the US, China, Japan, and Thailand to isolate strains of Covid-19. The ICMR’s specialised research unit, the National Institute of Virology, was able to isolate 11 different strains.
March 14: The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare invoked the Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897 that temporarily gives it the power to take special measures and prescribe regulations for curtailing the effect of the pandemic.
The Ministry of Home Affairs invoked the National Disaster Management Act of 2005 and allocated the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) to the states to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
March 13 to 15: The government suspended all existing visas, except for limited categories. This was 4 days after Italy had gone into a lockdown.
218 Indians, mostly students, were evacuated from Italy and taken to Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) quarantine facility in south-west Delhi.
March 15: The Spanish government nationalised all of its hospitals and healthcare providers and announced a 15-day lockdown with a message that it may be extended, if necessary.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi takes part in an online summit with leaders of other South Asian countries to ensure continuous coordination between the respective health departments. India offers $10 million to set up an emergency fund.
Meanwhile, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the centre was distracted by brewing political crisis in Madhya Pradesh, one of India's largest states. The ruling Congress state government has been left fending off a floor test after a key leader Jyotiraditya Scindia left the party to join rival BJP, and took along hoardes of other legislators with him. Precious time that could be devoted to containing coronavirus was lost to power play.
March 17: France went into a 15-day lockdown.
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) says 72 Coronavirus medical testing laboratories across India will be ready by ‘end of the week’ i.e. March 21. It provided Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for private laboratories to undertake COVID-19 tests.
The World Health Organisation praises India’s response. “I think the commitment of the Indian government from the top level has been enormous, very impressive. I am very impressed that everyone has been mobilised,” says Henk Bekedam, WHO Representative to India, reportedly said.
Maharashtra state government shuts down everything except essential services while the Haryana government mandated ‘work from home’ for firms in Gurugram. Meanwhile, Indian Railways decides to keep crowds off stations with a five-fold hike in platform ticket prices.
March 18: The Jammu and Kashmir administration stopped pilgrims from visiting Vaishno Devi temple, a popular Hindu religious shrine.
March 19: As China records a second consecutive day of zero coronavirus infection, India records the sharpest single-day rise in infections to over 180 since the coronavirus outbreak. Rupee hit a record low of 75 against the US dollar and the Indian benchmark index Sensex had lost over 30% of the value since the start of 2020.
Indian Railways cancels 155 pairs of trains with effect from the next day until the end of the month.
Indian Prime Minister gave a motivational address to the nation to observe a voluntary 14-hour lockdown on Sunday (March 22), called the ‘janta curfew’, with a possible hint that it may be imposed again as he asked for ‘a few weeks’ from the citizens.
The same day Kerala government announces a financial aid package and other rules to contain the coronavirus.
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