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‘Epidemiological evidence shows lockdown didn’t work in India’

As the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise in India despite a nation-wide lockdown of close to 50 days, senior Congress leader and national spokesperson Manish Tewari slammed the government saying that it conveniently changed its narrative midway.

The government, which earlier said that the lockdown was intended to break the chain of transmission, has now justified it saying that the numbers would have otherwise been over 6 lakh, Tewari said. Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24, while announcing his decision to impose the lockdown, had said that the move would break the chain of transmission and thus contain the spread of the disease. There were less than 600 cases in India at that time.

Tewari termed the move as a "huge" failure and said the number of coronavirus cases in the country could touch 1 lakh by May 17. “I have never been a supporter of the lockdown, we should have instead focused on smart containment of the disease,” he told IN. “What is important is to keep an eye on the fatality rate and not the number of the infected. Our fatality rate is low and that must not be allowed to go up,” Tewari said, adding that Modi’s unilateral decision to impose an ill-planned national lockdown backfired “within four hours.”

“Today we have over 65,000 cases in the country despite being in lockdown since March 25 and now we hear that the cases would have been over 6 lakh or so if the lockdown was not imposed. That is pure conjecture, there is no epidemiological evidence to suggest any such figure,” Tewari said. Tewari said that the emphasis should have been on building the required public health infrastructure and hospitals to handle critical cases while avoiding screening of asymptomatic carriers.

The former minister in the UPA government said that Rs 18 lakh crore has been wiped out of the economy due to the nationwide lockdown. Talking about a possible stimulus package, he said that the government had little room to announce any substantial package even as the economy needed a “big boost.”

“Around 2008, the growth rate was about 9 per cent, it was therefore easy for us to announce a stimulus package but at this point, with falling growth rate, there is no room for any such package,” he said. Modi, while announcing the imposition of the lockdown, had said that a three-week period was required to break the chain of transmission. However, due to the continuous rise in numbers, the government has had to extend the lockdown twice.

Rating agencies and economists have drastically slashed India’s growth projections. On Sunday, Japanese brokerage firm Nomura projected a GDP contraction of 5.2 per cent compared to the earlier -0.4 per cent for the current financial year. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO) released last month, about 40 crore workers in the Indian’s informal sector could be pushed into poverty due to stringent lockdown.