India’s business community published an open letter to the Modi administration at the weekend, calling on the government to introduce a national lockdown as the country recorded nearly 20 million cases.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has baulked against a nationwide lockdown so far for fear of damaging economic growth and as late as mid-April, most financial institutions and corporations in India were in agreement, a survey by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) found last month.
But the unprecedented number of coronavirus infections and deaths in recent weeks has forced executives to reconsider their commitment to protecting the bottom line.
“At this critical juncture when toll of lives is rising, the CII urges the strongest national steps including curtailing economic activity to reduce suffering,” Uday Kotak, the country’s wealthiest banker and founder of the third-largest bank in India, said in a letter published Sunday on behalf of the industry body which he also heads.
That same day, the number of infections slipped slightly to 392,488 new cases while the daily death toll hit a record 3,689.
Modi has been burned by lockdown efforts in the past. In the pandemic’s beginning stages early last year, Modi introduced strict rules curtailing people’s movements and second quarter economic output fell a record 24% year on year.
He now faces international and domestic backlash for loosening social distancing measures, to which many people attribute the severity of this latest COVID-19 surge.
Modi encouraged, and participated in, a number of massive religious and political events across five states in March and April.
One annual Hindu celebration, which was carried out this year after being greenlit by the national government, saw millions of maskless people crowd into a river to bathe.
The time for festivities has long passed. In the country’s capital city, car parks are now being used as makeshift pyre grounds to burn the bodies of coronavirus victims. Stretchers have become a commodity given first to the living, forcing workers to drag corpses on the ground.
More than 40 foreign governments pledged last week to send supplies to India’s oxygen-strapped hospitals and over the weekend British Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised another 1,000 ventilators.
India’s mutated virus strain has popped up in at least 17 other countries in recent weeks, forcing some foreign governments to close their borders to visitors from the subcontinent.