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India, The World's Largest Democracy, Locks Down

Mar 30, 2020

As India locks down 1.3 billion people, the world’s largest democracy is taking unprecedented measures in the country to fight the spread of coronavirus. But will it be enough?

Guests

Dr. Ramanan Laxminarayan, professor of global health at the University of Washington. Director of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy.

Ravi Agrawal, managing editor of Foreign Policy. (@RaviReports)

Barkha Dutt, TV journalist and anchor based in New Delhi, formerly with NDTV. Washington Post columnist. Author of “This Unquiet Land: Stories from India’s Fault Lines,” published in 2015. (@BDUTT)

From The Reading List

The New York Times: “What India Needs to Fight the Virus” — “On Tuesday evening, Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered 1.3 billion Indians to stay inside their homes for 21 days in an unprecedented bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus in the country.

“Soon after the first case of the coronavirus arrived in India in late January, India responded with restrictions on flights and screenings at its airports. Yet the country had more than 80,000 arrivals every day, mostly from Europe and the Gulf States, where the virus had spread.

“And across the country, millions of people live in proximity, in densely populated slums where access to health care is poor. The government’s decision to impose the lockdown was necessary to mitigate the inevitable spread of the disease.”

The Washington Post: “As India goes into lockdown, fear spreads: ‘Poverty may kill us first’” — “Bintar Khushwaha sat on the pavement, covered up to his ankles in dust as he folded his hands before me. ‘You are the maharaja’, he told me softly, using the Hindi word for king. ‘Help us.’ A little child, no older than 5, sat next to him with a vacant look. He sat absolutely silent and still, as if paralyzed by shock.

“On Tuesday, father and son and a small group of women from Khushwaha’s village who also work as laborers slept on the street, right in front of a bus stop where no buses are plying anymore.

“I met Khushwaha this week, minutes before Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that India’s 1.3 billion people will be in lockdown for 21 days, a hard but almost inevitable decision to fight the spread of covid-19. Khushwaha has also been asked to hunker down and ‘stay at home.’ But Khushwaha, a migrant laborer from the central Indian province of Madhya Pradesh, gets paid by the hour and has nowhere to stay in Delhi and no way to get to his home state.”

Foreign Affairs: “Coronavirus Threatens Catastrophe in India” — “This week, the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has affected nearly 200 countries, will begin to ravage one of the biggest, most vulnerable nations in the world. India, home to more than 1.3 billion people, is bracing for a surge in COVID-19 cases. The country already has the largest cohort of people in the world living with respiratory disease, thanks primarily to its chronic air pollution and high rates of tuberculosis. Such conditions make this densely populated country the perfect fodder for a virus that attacks the lungs of its victims.

“India reported its first case of COVID-19 on January 30. Over the last few weeks, cases of the disease have grown exponentially, with 519 people infected and ten deaths as of March 24. According to the World Health Organization’s Situation Reports, the virus is spreading in India through local transmission and not simply through the arrival of people who contracted the virus abroad.

“But until March 21, the Indian government had set fairly restrictive criteria for testing, providing tests only for international travelers and their immediate contacts. On March 24, the government imposed a three-week lockdown to slow the spread of the disease.”

Forbes: “India Is The Asian Blindspot In The Coronavirus Pandemic” — “Things could get really ugly, really fast in India. Fingers, toes, eyes are crossed.

“Everyone who knows India knows that getting things done there is next to impossible. It’s a large, cumbersome democracy. It’s got over a billion people, but that is all it has in common with China.

“When the new SARS coronavirus was discovered in China’s Hubei province by a crack medical team in Wuhan, the state’s capital city, Chinese officials there ignored it for a month. But once it became obvious there was a problem, the city and later the entire province was put on lockdown. That stopped the spreading of the disease, known as COVID-19, from attacking untold millions outside of Hubei.

“Few think India can pull that off.”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.