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Imagen: Economic Times
Imagen: Economic Times

India: 1.3 Billion People Under Lockdown

Yesterday, the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, imposed a total quarantine for 21 days, the largest quarantine ever made.

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On 24 March, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that no one would be able to leave the house after midnight, which would happen four hours later. In making the decision to put India in a 21-day quarantine, Modi imposed the largest quarantine on the planet, taking into account that India is the second most populous country after China.

So far, Indian authorities have only reported 657 cases (in a population of over 1.3 billion) and claim that half come from other countries where the pandemic is more developed.

However, this is a statement that is not comprehensible in a country that reported its first case of COVID-19 on Jan. 30, has such a high population density and an informal economy of more than 80 percent for the non-agricultural sectors.

If we look at how the virus has reproduced in other countries, the only possibility is that in India testing has been far below what the country needs. Which is not surprising in a country whose health system has been deeply underfunded for decades; an indicator of this is that, as reported by the New York Times, it has about 0.5 hospital beds per 1,000 people.

Perhaps the factor that has diverted attention from the spread of the pandemic is that India's population is, on average, much younger than in other countries devastated by the coronavirus. The average age of the population in India is 28 years, which may have led to milder symptoms or even asymptomatic infections.

While it will take the development of the virus cycle in a wider part of the population to fully understand how the phenomenon is occurring there, the fact is that the Prime Minister imposed quarantine, literally overnight, on nearly one-fifth of the world's population.

Although the decree issued by Prime Minister Modi clearly states that the inhabitants may go out to buy food and that these shops must remain open, already on the first day of the quarantine the media have reported that the military forces have imposed the closure of basic food shops and that many people are afraid of reprisals if they go out to look for groceries. "If the coronavirus doesn't kill us, hunger will," Shehnaz Khatun, the mother of three, told the New York Times.

The combination of all these factors - the low number of tests done, the high level of informality of the economy and the level of aggressiveness and poor coordination of authorities with whom the measure is being implemented - has great potential to be an explosive mix.

The resistance of the Indians will be tested over the next 20 days, hopefully for the better.

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