India implements a ‘lockdown’ in a bid to halt COVID-19

Author(s): Jesslyn Thay , Date: 25 March 2020

The world’s second most populous country, India, has gone into lockdown in a bid to stall the COVID-19 outbreak. President Modi has told all 1.3 billion citizens to ‘stay at home’, as an attempt to slow the spread of the outbreak, for 21 days. India is following a similar path taken by much of Europe and Latin America, by placing its citizens in lockdown to slow the virus spread.

However, Indians are worried whether the lockdown will work in a country where many of the population work daily cash-in-hand jobs. By staying at home and not earning, the poorest people face the prospect of struggling to feed their families for the next three weeks, or longer if the lockdown continues, with many already breaking the curfew to work.

There is already widespread food insecurity across India, with 4 out of 10 children not meeting their full human potential because of chronic undernutrition or stunting, says the United Nations. The coronavirus outbreak will make getting food on the table much more difficult.

Poverty levels and migrant workers

More than 300 million people in India live below the poverty line, however this number is likely to be higher.  Many of the poorest workers are unregistered and therefore not entitled to pensions and sick pay said a report by the BBC.

A distinct social group, dubbed the ‘floating population’, face the greatest uncertainty under the lockdown. They are migrants moving often for seasonal or casual work, in India there is an estimated 139 million internal migrants, who work many ‘low-paying, hazardous and informal market jobs’.

India’s ‘floating population’ also bring other problems for health officials battling COVID-19, particularly when they are undocumented it is hard to contact trace and actively find cases. Most migrant workers India have low levels of education and poor health making them extra vulnerable to the coronavirus outbreak.

Community transmission

Health officials are concerned that the migrant workers will ‘rush to their villages in times of crisis’ bringing with them the virus accelerating the disease spread to otherwise isolated communties. The health experts and officials said to the BBC that with the heightened the risk of community transmission, ‘the coming two weeks are the most challenging for India’.

Household transmission is the main way in which SARS-CoV-2, the virus which caused COVID-19, spreads. India is one of the most densely populated countries in the world with almost 75% of Indian households, roughly 900 million Indians, have more than five members live in two rooms or fewer, according to the BBC report.

Economic impact

Figures published by ING, the lockdown imposes a ‘total ban on all non-essential businesses and prevents people from stepping out of homes’, anyone who breaks the rules could be fined or even prosecuted. The Indian government also has allocated $2 billion for the healthcare sector in this emergency, but with a population of 1.3 billion that will not stretch far.