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Saturday, September 23, 2023

India reopens public spaces despite record virus infections

India reopened public spaces as a part of the gradual road toward complete lockdown lifting. However, the cases in India are seeing record rises, and the economy is in shambles.

Malls and temples re-opened in several cities across India on Monday despite the country recording a record daily number of new coronavirus infections, with the pandemic expected to ravage the country for weeks to come. As India reopens public spaces, there are fears from all quarters of the Indian citizenry that it is too soon, and that the nation’s hospitals are not yet ready for the mass influx of patients that is soon to follow.

After a 10-week lockdown the government has risked lifting some restrictions in a bid to ease the devastating blow to the economy dealt by the coronavirus.

India reopens public spaces as record cases reported

But the number of new cases rose by 9,983 to 256,611, according to government figures announced Monday, putting the country of 1.3 billion on course to overtake Britain and Spain among nations with the highest number of infections.

The reported death toll of 7,135 is much lower than reported in other badly-hit countries, but the epidemic is only expected to peak locally in July, according to health experts.

Still, in the capital Delhi, shopping malls, restaurants, temples and mosques were allowed to re-open for the first time since March 25.

The response was tentative, however, and only a trickle of people returned to some places of worship.

Read more: Coronavirus impact on Indian economy: small businesses suffering the most

Businessman Mohit Budhiraja, wearing a mask and carrying sanitiser, went to his local temple in eastern Delhi for the first time since the lockdown.

“It felt like something was missing when I couldn’t come to the temple for all these weeks,” he said.

“I hope things improve, but now I will come every day.”

Many temples set up sanitisation tunnels at their entrances and barred worshippers from bringing offerings.

“People are having their temperature tested twice before they get in,” said Ravindra Goel, a trustee of the Jhandewalan temple, one of the oldest in Delhi.

The 400-year-old Jama Masjid mosque — one of the biggest in India — planned to allow the faithful in just three times a day instead of the usual five.

Major hit to economy expected as India reopens public spaces 

Delhi is one of India’s worst coronavirus hotspots, accounting for more than 27,600 cases and 761 deaths — although media reports say the real figures are much higher.

Mumbai, which accounts for around a fifth of India’s cases and hospitals have been overrun, was more cautious. Roadside shops were allowed to re-open, but malls, restaurants and hair salons remained shuttered.

The Indian government says the tough lockdown it ordered on March 25 has limited the spread of the coronavirus.

But it is now braced for a major hit to the economy, with millions of labourers now jobless.

Rating agencies have said the economy could contract by more than five percent this year, after average growth of about seven percent over the past decade.

Despite restrictions being eased last month, India’s manufacturing sector is struggling to restart because of an exodus of migrant workers prompted by the virus lockdown.

Big cities — once an attractive destination for workers from poor, rural regions — have been hit by reverse migration as millions of labourers fled to their village homes.

“A lot of the manufacturing industry is actually located in the very states where the pandemic’s impact has been great,” Professor Santosh Mehrotra at Jawaharlal Nehru University told AFP last week.

“Now these are the areas where naturally workers have left in large numbers… They will not return in a hurry.”

India’s economy in tatters due to long lockdown

Writing for Global Village Space, a former top Indian bureaucrat said that the Indian economy will suffer severely because of lockdowns in his article “Lockdown will shake Indian economy to its foundations” on March 26th.

“Simply put, it poses a tricky question: Does the mathematics of a virus with a mortality rate of roughly 1.5 percent justify quarantine that is sure to inflict an unimaginable economic carnage?”

“But politicians, including those who prided to be strongmen, tend to play it safe when faced with decisions of seismic implications”, he said.

Read more: Lockdown will shake Indian economy to its foundations

Earlier, as India was gradually unlocking its economy after a shutdown that lasted more than two months, it was reported that it was unlikely to be business as usual for millions of retailers, small enterprises and factories. The Coronavirus impact on Indian economy has seen the economy on its knees, with fears growing of the economy not recovering from this pandemic.

At least 20% of neighbourhood mobile shops that sell smartphones may never reopen again, says Arvinder Khurana, president of India’s mobile retailers association.

The reasons are many, he adds – on the one hand, owners have fled the cities and are yet to return, and on the other, with job losses mounting and banks averse to offering consumer loans, there is no demand for high-end phones.

According to India’s retail association, sales of non-essential items – such as clothes, electronics, furniture – fell by 80% in May. Even sales of essential goods – such as groceries and medicines – dipped by 40%.

Small businesses have indeed been dealt the short end of the stick by the BJP-led government’s decision to impose the lockdown, and some may never recover to open again once the lockdown in fully lifted in the world’s second most populous country.

AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk