Will Coronavirus Lockdown Extension Do More Harm Than Good?

A crippled economy due to a prolonged lockdown will make many more people vulnerable to all sorts of illnesses.

Updated
Opinion
4 min read

Video Editor: Ashutosh Bhardwaj
Video Producer: Shohini Bose

Amid talks of an extension of the nation-wide lockdown, and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s tweet ‘confirming’ that the “PM has taken correct decision to extend lockdown”, let’s take a look at the dual objective of the total lockdown:

  • To break the chain of coronavirus transmission by preventing people-to-people contact at all levels
  • Use the three-week time to augment the public health infrastructure capacity


It looks like the goal of keeping the entire population indoor has been achieved. Google data shows that following the lockdown, visits to retail stores, restaurants and other public places plunged by 77 percent in India, as compared to the previous year. Only a few countries, badly affected Spain, Italy and UK for instance, witnessed drop of 80 percent and more.
The data on consumption of petrol-diesel also shows that Indians have avoided going out after the lockdown announcement. Following the 17 percent drop in demand for diesel-petrol in March, the reduction in demand of petroleum products in the first week of April was a whopping 66 percent.

The two sets of data clearly establish that people have done their bit, and likely to do the same till the lockdown is in place. After three weeks of almost total compliance, if we still need to extend the lockdown to do more of the same, we must rethink our strategy.

Reduced Consumption Hurts Our Inherent Ability to Fight Diseases

The focus now should shift to repairing the damage wreaked by the deadly coronavirus and the consequent lockdown upon the economy. The reason why that is more important than everything else is the growing vulnerability of those at the subsistence level, with each passing day of no income, and very little assistance from the government. Arguing against the continuation of the lockdown, Shankar Acharya, former chief economic advisor, gives four reasons:

  1. Since half of the country’s population is either below the poverty line or slightly above that, there is no way they can cope with an extended period of no economic activity.
  2. Nearly 80 percent of the workers are part of the unorganised sector, with no regular income and no job guarantee, and a prolonged lockdown can seriously impair their budget.
  3. European-style welfarism, that could protect the people from economic shocks, is missing here.
  4. There is no way we can augment the public health infrastructure in a short period of time.

He adds that: “Prolonged lockdown will also lead to higher (than normal) rates of morbidity and death (especially among the poorest half of the population) as the loss of incomes and reduced consumption of nutrients and other essentials render people vulnerable to a wide array of disease vectors.”

There is nothing more to add to what the former chief economic advisor has so forcefully argued. All that is required is to give a snapshot of the extent of deprivation of a large section of population.

30 Percent Households Depend on Daily Wages

Of the 24.5 crore households in the country, nearly 16 lakh households have no shelter of their own, 2.4 crore households (13 percent of all households) have one room or less with kachcha walls and roofs, and 5.4 crore households (more than 30 percent of all households) own no land, and derive the major part of their income from manual labour.

How can we expect them to stay at home and continue to feed themselves without any earning for an extended period?

Nearly 75 percent of all rural households have a monthly income of less than Rs 5,000, and only 8 percent of households earn more than Rs 10,000 in a month. (All data from socio economic and caste census of 2011). And of the 47 crore people estimated to be doing some job, nearly 39 crore are part of the unorganised sector. Can we expect them to sit at home and do nothing to feed their near and dear ones?

Need to Stay Healthy to Fight Other Diseases Apart From Corona

An extended lockdown can have a long-term impact on the ability of a large section of the population to earn and therefore sustain themselves to fight against so many other diseases. Let us not forget that nearly 21 people die of acute respiratory infection and pneumonia every day. Nearly 9 percent of the country’s adult population is diabetic, and we lose nearly 2,150 precious lives every day due to cancer.

A crippled economy due to a prolonged lockdown will do precisely that, and make us more vulnerable to all such illnesses – and push many of us to the scourge called poverty, that is the root of many more ailments.

And there can be no estimation of the kind of mental trauma one will have to go through following the apprehension of job losses (or actual job loss), falling income, or the scary thought of seeing one’s loved ones without food.

We know that we have lost more than 200 lives so far (in India) due to coronavirus. Do we have any estimate of how many lives have been lost in the same period due to hunger, malnutrition, and lack of access to quality healthcare? In this scenario, a prolonged lockdown seems like a luxury that the majority simply cannot afford. This is not to suggest that we should not give our 100 percent in the fight against coronavirus. Testing and contact-tracing would be more effective in pursuing that goal, and not the further extension of the complete lockdown across the country. Hope the state governments and Centre are listening.

(Mayank Mishra is a senior journalist who writes on Indian economy and politics, and their intersection. He tweets at @Mayankprem. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed in this article are that of the writer’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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