Taking preventive measures to contain spread of the deadly coronavirus are essential but in India, the cure may prove worse than the disease.
On March 25, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi imposed a three-week long lockdown on the country’s 1.3 billion people.
The government issued orders for everyone to stay at home.
That would be fine except that in India, hundreds of millions of people have no homes.
They live on sidewalks or any place they can find to stretch their legs at night.
There are also hundreds of millions of people, 85% of the workforce, earning a daily wage to feed themselves or their families.
They have no savings to fall back on. Without their daily wage, they will starve.
Many people, particularly from India’s rural hinterland, have settled in the sprawling urban centres where massive slums have sprung up.
At a stroke, hundreds of millions of people were not only put out of work but left without food.
While Modi apologised to the people on March 29, that does not put food in a hungry person’s plate.
Instead, the police have fired tear gas at daily wage earners protesting lack of food or transport.
Tens of thousands of people—men, women and children—have been trekking out of urban centres like Delhi and Mumbai to head home to their villages.
There is no transport so they have to walk on foot.
In some cases, the distances needed to traverse are hundreds of miles but without a job, these people will starve to death in the cities.
The Modi regime has made no provisions to feed them.
Instead, some individuals have stepped forward to distribute food out of huge pots in the back of pick-up trucks.
But how many people can they feed when there are millions of hungry mouths waiting to be fed?
Line-ups at these ad hoc food distribution centres show dishevelled men, women and children with outstretched hands seeking a plate of boiled rice and daal.
Many complained they had not eaten for four days since the regime imposed the lockdown.
The police have been equally ruthless. Carrying long bamboo sticks they beat up anybody they see in the streets.
Where should the homeless go?
“I apologise for taking these harsh steps that have caused difficulties in your lives, especially the poor people,” Modi said in his monthly address, broadcast by state radio on March 29.
“I know some of you will be angry with me. But these tough measures were needed to win this battle.”
‘Angry’ does not nearly capture the mood of the people.
According to the latest figures released by worldometers.info at 20:59 GMT today, India’s total cases stood at 1,397 of whom 35 have died.
Compared to the global total of 853,127 infected cases and 41,983 deaths, India’s figures are miniscule.
But these are not true figures.
India’s testing rate is appallingly low prompting the World Heath Organization (WHO) urging it to significantly increase testing.
Indian health experts have said local spreading is inevitable in a country where tens of millions of people live in dense urban areas in cramped conditions with irregular access to clean water.
With millions of poor on the march to their villages, the lockdown policy has increased India’s risk of spreading the disease.
How many among them are carrying the virus or will contract the disease from others on the way?
India’s actual cases are likely far in excess of what has officially been acknowledged and the virus will spread much more rapidly.
Like the US, India is heading for a major disaster.