Center Covid-19 report card: acknowledged threat, but slipped over migrants, economy – editorials
Fifty-five days after India entered possibly for the world’s strictest blockade, the country opened substantially on Tuesday, although the blockade was officially extended until May 31. This is a good time to evaluate what the Center did well, and what went wrong in this period.
This is where the Narendra Modi government was right. One, understood the seriousness of the challenge posed by the coronavirus pandemic, did not minimize the threat and emphasized the need for precautions and social distancing. Two, despite the economic costs, made the right decision by imposing a blockade on March 25: the country needed it to reduce the spread of the infection and prepare the health infrastructure. Three, once he recognized the importance of masks and personal protective equipment (PPE), increased national production. Four recognized the centrality of the states in this battle, with Modi consulting regularly with the main ministers and taking into account their contributions. Five, the prime minister’s messages by emphasizing lives over livelihoods first, and then the need to reconcile lives and livelihoods, as it became clear that the pandemic is here to stay, was important. And finally, he behaved responsibly by helping countries in need and not using this moment to earn geopolitical points.
Where did the government go wrong? First, it underestimated the desire of migrant workers to return to their homes, causing one of the most severe humanitarian crises that India has seen. It was inconsistent with its travel policy, did not provide adequate safety nets, and was insensitive when reports emerged that they were walking home. Two, it slipped into the health front: first, with limited testing criteria, testing in low numbers for a long time, and without providing enough PPE in the early stages. It is unclear if India still has the infrastructure in case there is an increase in cases. Third, it greatly delayed the economic package, and when the package was announced, it did not have a component strong enough to stimulate demand and provide immediate relief. Four, the Center did not do enough to financially support the states. Five, he has been sporadic and often not transparent in his communication, particularly in the spread of the disease. And finally, in applying the blockade, the security apparatus often used excessive force and violated the government’s own guidelines. As India prepares for the next phase of the battle, it must take advantage of strengths and remedy weaknesses.