India is one of the leading countries in the world to have implemented a total lockdown for such a long time following the coronavirus pandemic.
The move paralyzed about 75 percent of the economy, according to Japanese investment bank Nomura, which also predicted a nearly 4.5 percent drop in GDP as a result of this in fiscal 2021. During in the April-June quarter alone, the Indian economy would contract by 6.1%, the company said.
In addition to causing massive supply chain disruptions, the foreclosure has displaced millions of people inside the country.
Did it help?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, which extended the lockdown today (April 14) until May 3, has argued that all this is necessary to “flatten the curve” of infections. However, the evidence it offers to support this claim is absolutely unconvincing.
An official with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for example, said on April 9 that, if there were no lockdown, there would have been 820,000 cases on April 15, according to an internal assessment. When questioned about this, the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) initially stated that no such study existed and then clarified that the claim was based on “statistical extrapolation” by the Ministry of Health, as shown in Figure 1.
The problem with this statement is that we do not know, if any, which model was used to arrive at these figures. No such model has been made public or even discussed by government officials. In this case, the only model that the ICMR has publicly shared is not about foreclosure, but an analysis of the border control measures that India introduced relatively earlier than other countries.
So what’s the right way to find out if locking has helped?
In the absence of an official reference model in India, all we need is aggregated data on the total number of nationally confirmed cases, which are updated daily. The graph below plots the natural logarithm of the total number of cases on the vertical axis with the time index on the horizontal.
The interpretation is that if the curve is flat, there is no growth of infections and if the curve looks like a straight line, then infections develop at a constant proportional rate. In other words, the classic exponential curve used in epidemiology.
It shows that after an essentially flat portion with low growth in new cases, India entered the exponential phase, starting around March 4, as shown in the straight line in the journal of confirmed cases. Note that this exponential growth started several weeks before the lockout and continued until just two days before the end of the initial lockout period.
An optimist might be able to see a tiny flattening of the curve starting around March 30, but it’s only a week from the lockdown. Since the virus has a two-week incubation period, it obviously cannot be attributed to the lockdown. In addition, several states had initiated their own lockouts before the national. Karnataka, for example, announced one on March 13, Maharashtra on March 20.
If locking had an effect, you would expect the slope of this line to flatten or bend toward the horizontal axis.
Given the significant economic and human costs that result, the foreclosure must therefore be considered a failure.
The biggest problem is that the focus on locking removes the crucial issue of scaling up testing.
There is no doubt that testing in India remains low by global standards. India has so far performed more than 200,000 tests, compared to one million a day in the United States. The Goa tourist hotspot, which receives visitors from all over the world and is therefore probably a virus hotspot, has so far performed just over 400 tests for a population of 1.5 million. ‘inhabitants. However, it remains in total lockdown, reporting only seven cases and no deaths so far.
If, on the one hand, we assume that India is testing enough and its numbers are correct, we must ask ourselves if it makes perfect sense for a state like Goa to be locked out. By extension, is there a compelling rationale for a national lockdown that extends to many states where the incidence of the virus is very low? Obviously, a single solution is not the best approach.
However, if we believe that the infection rates are much higher than those reported, it appears that India missed a golden opportunity during the foreclosure to strengthen its medical and public health capacities.
This does not mean anything from the economic and humanitarian catastrophe triggered by the surprise foreclosure. Rather than deploying the state’s limited capacity – weak even under normal circumstances – to set up hospitals and clinics and step up testing, it was necessarily directed towards setting up relief camps for the poor and the needy caught in the foreclosure fiasco.
Anyway, the lockdown, without public health intervention, was not up to its billing. And yet here we are with the lock extension.
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