Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who last year imposed a strict lockdown on short notice, has asked states to avoid shutting businesses as India grapples with a new wave of Covid-19 infections that threatens a nascent economic revival.
India is now the world’s second-worst hit country, lagging only the U.S., after reporting more than 200,000 daily new infections for the last six days.
“I urge states that they should consider lockdowns as the last option,” PM Modi said in a televised address on Tuesday. “They should earnestly try to avoid lockdown and focus on micro-containment zones.”
As infections rise, the country’s health system has been pushed to breaking point, with hospitals around the country reporting shortages of everything from intensive care beds to medical oxygen. Soaring new cases have forced both India’s financial and political capitals to impose restrictions on movement, with New Delhi mandating a six-day strict lockdown starting Tuesday.
The nation’s benchmark stock index fell to its lowest since end-January on Tuesday and the rupee is Asia’s worst-performing currency this month as India became the globe’s epicenter of the fresh outbreak.
In February, the central bank said it expects the economy to expand 10.5% in the year that began April 1 after an estimated 7.7% contraction in the previous 12 months.
Renewed lockdowns will cost the country 1% of gross value added in the April-June quarter and more if replicated by other states, according to estimates by HSBC Holdings Plc. Meanwhile, public finances will be hit by the rise in demand for social safety programs, weaker tax revenues and uncertainty about asset sales, HSBC economist Pranjul Bhandari wrote in a note published on Tuesday.
PM Modi also said that his government is working with states and companies to augment supplies of medical oxygen and crucial drugs required to fight the pandemic.