In fact, the statement by the health ministry officials on March 13, when India had 83 positive cases of coronavirus, said Coronavirus was not even a “health emergency”.
India confirmed the first case of novel coronavirus on January 30 in the Thrissur district of Kerala. The patient was a student studying at Wuhan University, China, and had recently returned to India.
— Ministry of Health (@MoHFW_INDIA) January 30, 2020
Business As Usual
On March 2, India had 5 positive cases of coronavirus across the country. It took India almost an entire month to see 67% in growth in its coronavirus tally from 1 case on January 30 to 5 cases on March 2. Considering the slow rate of transmission and non-threatening rise in positive cases, it was business as usual for the people as well as the governments. On 24th February, Prime Minister Modi had hosted US President Donald Trump In India. It was the inaugural visit of the US President Donald Trump and his family to India. In fact, the statement by the health ministry officials on March 13, when India had 83 positive cases of coronavirus, said Coronavirus was not even a “health emergency”.
Coronavirus is not a health emergency: officials
— Press Trust of India (@PTI_News) March 13, 2020
On 19th March, when India had 173 cases of Covid-19 infections, PM Modi asked all citizens to observe ‘Janata Curfew’ (people’s curfew) on Sunday, March 22. On March 22, India had traced down 360 cases of Covid-19 infection. During his address, PM Modi had said that “Janata Curfew is just the beginning of a long battle against COVID-19”. Pm Modi, addressing the nation second time on March 24, announced the nationwide lockdown from midnight of that day, for a period of 21 days. When the first lockdown was announced on March 24, India had crossed 500-mark with 519 cases of infections across the country, whereas 10 people had died of the novel coronavirus.
The lockdown restricted people from coming out of their houses. All transport services–road, air, and rail–were suspended, with exceptions for transportation of essential goods, fire, police, and emergency services. Educational institutions, industrial establishments, and hospitality services were also suspended. Only essential services such as food shops, banks and ATMs, petrol pumps, and manufacturing of essential goods were exempted during the lockdown.
The Flaw In Plan: Migrants & Labourers
On 25th March, after the lockdown was announced, people were hurrying to stock essentials in some parts. Several arrests were made across the states against people violating the rules and venturing out for no emergency. The government held meetings with e-commerce websites and vendors to ensure a seamless supply of essential goods across the nation during the lockdown period. And yet, the biggest flaw of this lockdown plan was to be spotted. It’s certainly surprising that no one in the bureaucracy or ruling establishment even thought about migrants/ daily wage labourers. As the unorganized sector in urban regions shut down after the lockdown was announced, the migrant workers employed in these metro cities started feeling the heat. Those who used to earn on a daily basis, now suddenly had nowhere to go. A mass exodus of migrants was observed in cities like Mumbai and Delhi.
On March 28, a huge number of migrants gathered at Delhi’s Anand Vihar bus terminal on the Delhi-UP border to board buses and return to their hometowns. On the same day, India was a few cases short of crossing 1000 cases of Covid-19 infection with 918 cases and 19 deaths.
Delhi: Migrant workers in very large numbers at Delhi's Anand Vihar bus terminal, to board buses to their respective home towns and villages. They have walked to the bus terminal on foot from different parts of the city. pic.twitter.com/IeToP3hX7H
— ANI (@ANI) March 28, 2020
The migrant crisis, although largely ignored, didn’t subside with the time. In nearly two weeks from March 28 to April 14, India witnessed an astonishing rise in Covid-19 cases. On April 14, when migrants came out in huge numbers outside Bandra station in Mumbai demanding to return back home, India had reached 10,815 cases of coronavirus with 353 deaths due to the disease.
In the first phase of the lockdown between March 25 to April 14, India saw exponential growth in coronavirus cases with 10,209 new cases of the infection being traced down in the country.
Red, Green, and Orange
On April 14, PM Modi extended the nationwide lockdown till May 3, with a conditional relaxation promised after April 20 for the regions where the spread had been contained by then. He said that every town, every police station area and every state would be carefully evaluated to see if it had contained the spread. The areas that were able to do so would be released from the lockdown on April 20. If any new cases emerged in those areas, lockdown could be reimposed.
On April 16, lockdown areas were classified as “red zone”, indicating the presence of infection hotspots, “orange zone” indicating some infection, and “green zone” with no infections.
The government also announced certain relaxations from 20 April, allowing agricultural businesses, including dairy, aquaculture, and plantations, as well as shops selling farming supplies, to open. Public works programmes were also allowed to reopen with instructions to maintain social distancing. Cargo transportation vehicles, including trucks, trains, and planes, would run. Banks and government centers distributing benefits would open as well.
On 25 April, small retail shops were allowed to open with half the staff. Again social distancing norms were to be followed. On 29 April, The Ministry of Home Affairs issued guidelines for the states to allow inter-state movement of the stranded persons. States had been asked to designate nodal authorities and form protocols to receive and send such persons. States had also been asked to screen the people, quarantine them, and to do periodic health checkups. On April 29, India had 31,787 cases of coronavirus. On the very day, India reported 71 deaths & 1813 new cases of coronavirus.
During the second phase of lockdown between April 15 and May 3, India witnessed 28,330 new infections. On May 3, when the second lockdown ended, India had 40,263 cases of Covid-19 infection.
By this time, the whole enthusiasm the PM was trying to infuse in people to fight the virus had come down. The number of cases had become just another number. India was moving towards a situation that every expert around the world had warned of. The Rs. 170,000 crore (US$24 billion) stimulus package declared by finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman on March 26 had no impact on the growing uncertainty of the future amongst the citizens.
This Too Shall Continue..
PM Modi, who is very unlikely to miss an opportunity to address the country, did not announce the third phase of lockdown. On 1 May, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and the Government of India (GoI) further extended the lockdown period to two weeks beyond 4 May, with some relaxations. The country had been split into 3 zones: red zones (130 districts), orange zones (284 districts) and green zones (319 districts). Red zones were those with high coronavirus cases and a high doubling rate, orange zones were those with comparatively fewer cases and green zones were those without any cases in the past 21 days. The normal movement was permitted in green zones with buses limited to 50 percent capacity. Orange zones would allow only private and hired vehicles but no public transportation. The red zones would remain under lockdown. The zone classification would be revised once a week.
During this phase, the efforts made in creating infrastructure and procuring mandatory equipment since the imposition of lockdown helped India face the problem a little better, not ignoring the fact that India was totally unprepared for this crisis.
The Atmanirbhar Package
PM Narendra Modi, voicing a similar situation in his address on May 12, said, “When the crisis began, not a single PPE was being manufactured in India. N-95 masks were being manufactured in negligible quantity. Today, the situation is such that India is manufacturing 2 lakh PPE kits and N95 masks each per day. We are able to do so because India has turned a crisis into an opportunity. India’s vision to convert this crisis into an opportunity is going to prove influential as we become more self-reliant.” PM Modi also announced a 20 Lakh Crore package for India to fight the coronavirus crisis and become “Atmanirbhar” (self-reliant).
On May 12, 30 passenger trains to and from the national capital were allowed to run to escort the migrants back to their hometowns. Despite the efforts made by state governments, many migrant labourers were forced to walk back to their hometowns.
During the third phase of lockdown from May 4 to May 17, India saw a rise of 48,091 cases in its Covid-19 tally. On May 17, when the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) extended the lockdown for a period for two weeks beyond 18 May, India had 90,927 cases of Covid-19 and 2,872 deaths due to the virus.
The Curve Goes Up & Up
Additional relaxations were given in the next phase of the lockdown. Unlike the previous extensions, states were given a larger say in the demarcation of Green, Orange and Red zones and the implementation roadmap. Red zones were further divided into containment and buffer zones. The local bodies were given the authority to demarcate containment and buffer zones.
On May 19th India crossed the 1 lakh mark with a total of 1,01,139 cases and 3163 deaths.
At the end of the fourth phase of the lockdown, on May 31, India had 182,143 cases of Covid-19 with 5164 deaths. During this phase of the lockdown between May 17 to May 31, India reported 91,216 new cases of Covid-19.
Unlocking The Transmission
The MHA issued fresh guidelines for the month of June, stating that the phases of reopening would “have an economic focus”. Lockdown restrictions would only be imposed in containment zones, while activities would be permitted in other zones in a phased manner. This first phase of reopening was termed as “Unlock 1.0” and permitted shopping malls, religious places, hotels, and restaurants to reopen from 8 June. Large gatherings were still banned but there would be no restrictions on inter-state travel. However, night curfews would be in effect from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. in all areas and state governments would be allowed to put suitable restrictions on all activities.
On June 1, India had already reached 190,535 cases with 5,394 deaths. When the “unlock 1.0” ended on June 31, the Covid-19 tally had reached 566,840 with 16,893 deaths.
On June 3, India crossed 3 Lakh cases. On 21st June, the coronavirus cases had surpassed the 4 Lakh mark. Towards the end of the “Unlock 1.0”, on June 28, India crossed 5 lakh cases of coronavirus across the country.
During the “Unlock 1.0” between June 1 and June 30, India witnessed 3,76,305 new cases of coronavirus.
It Keeps Getting Worse
The “Unlock 2.0” began on 1 July under the guidelines and instructions of the MHA and the NDMA. Lockdown measures are only imposed in containment zones. In all other areas, most activities are permitted. Night curfews would be in effect from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. in all areas. State governments would be allowed to put suitable restrictions on all activities, but state borders are to remain open to all. Inter- and intra-state travel is permitted. Limited international travel has been permitted as part of the Vande Bharat Mission. Shops are now permitted to allow more than five persons at a time. Educational institutions, metros, recreational activities are to remain closed till 31 July. Only essential activities are permitted in containment zones, while maintaining strict parameter control and “intensive contact tracing, house-to-house surveillance, and other clinical interventions”. Further guidelines regarding usage of Aarogya Setu and masks were reiterated.
On July 2, India crossed the 6 lakh mark. Currently on July 6, according to the website of Health Ministry, India has 6,97,413 cases of coronavirus with 19693 deaths. Within a week since June 30, India has reported 1,30,573 new cases on coronavirus.
During the phases of locking down the world’s largest democracy and then unlocking it again, India has sure forgotten to flatten the curve. With every new phase of lockdown and unlock, India has only seen a consistent rise in Covid-19 cases and deaths due to the infection.
Maharashtra remains the most affected state by the pandemic. Maharashtra has seen 2,06,619 cases of coronavirus in the state since the outbreak. State capital Mumbai remains the most affected city by the virus in the state. Tamil Nadu is the second-worst affected state by the coronavirus across the country. The southern state has 1,11,151 positive cases of coronavirus. Delhi too has seen a huge rise in Covid-19 cases in late June and early July. Delhi is on the verge of crossing 1 Lakh mark by itself with 99,444 cases. Gujarat has reported 36,037 cases so far. Uttar Pradesh has 27,707 cases of Covid-19.
Drugs & Vaccine
Though many see a coronavirus vaccine as an ultimate problem-solver in the current situation, a couple of drugs like FabiFlu by Glenmark Pharmaceuticals using favipiravir and CIPREMI & COVIFOR developed by Cipla and Hetero using remdesivir have also shown greater improvement rate in Covid-19 patients.
Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) caused a stir after it told the trial centres that it wanted to launch the vaccine for coronavirus on August 15- independence day. Drug Controller General of India’s (DCGI) has given the approval to conduct human trials of coronavirus vaccine named Covaxin — developed jointly by Bharat Biotech, National Institute of Virology, and the ICMR. August 15 was an audacious target to launch a vaccine and ICMR faced much flak from experts.
The Indian Academy of Sciences, a Bengaluru-based body of scientists, has said the Indian Council for Medical Research’s (ICMR) target to launch a coronavirus vaccine by August 15 is “unfeasible” and “unrealistic”.
However, ICMR, on Sunday (July 5) said that it has not set any deadline for the vaccine. The idea is to conduct clinical trials as quickly as possible, given the urgency and uncertainty of the global pandemic, it said.
Amid aspersions being cast out on how successful the phases of the lockdown were and ICMR’s insistence on bringing out the vaccine as soon as possible, the coronavirus cases in India continue to surge at rapid speed.
India on Sunday overtook Russia to become the third worst-hit country by the pandemic across the world.
As the country eyes at challenging times ahead after the crashing of economy, loss of jobs, and shutting of businesses, the only question that is important to ask: Was it avoidable?
Note: The figures for particular days during the different phases of lockdown are sourced from Wikipedia.