New Delhi reopens rift amid grim economic outlook for India

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NEW DELHI – The Indian capital, which just weeks ago was hit by the devastating power of the coronavirus, with tens of thousands of new infections every day and funeral pyres burning day and night, is taking its first steps towards normalcy.

Officials resumed manufacturing and construction on Monday, allowing workers in these industries to return to their jobs after six weeks at home to avoid contamination. The move came after a sharp decline in the number of new infections, at least according to official figures, as well as after the emptying of hospital wards and a decrease in the burden on drugs and supplies.

Life on the streets of Delhi is not expected to return to normal immediately. Schools and most businesses are still closed. Delhi’s metro system, which opened after last year’s nationwide lockdown, has again suspended operations.

But loosening restrictions by the city government will allow people like Ram Nivas Gupta and his staff to start getting back to work – and more broadly, start rebuilding India’s ailing, pandemic-stricken economy. Mr Gupta, the owner of a construction company, was due to replace the migrant workers who fled Delhi when the second wave of coronavirus hit in April, but he was confident the business would soon return to normal.

“We won’t be able to get started right away, but gradually, in six to ten days, we will be able to mobilize manpower and materials and start work,” said Mr. Gupta, who is also president of the Indian Builders Association in Delhi.

At least one million people in the construction sector in Delhi will be able to return to their jobs.

Even a small discovery is an adventure of the city authorities. Only 3 percent of the 1.4 billion people in India are fully vaccinated. Due to limited health infrastructure and public reporting, the state of the pandemic in rural areas, including outside Delhi, is largely unknown. Experts are already predicting a third wave, warning that the calm in Delhi may only be a respite, not the end of a second wave.

New infections in Delhi surged six weeks ago, peaking at 28,395 new cases reported on April 20. Almost every third test for coronavirus has been positive. Hospitals were overcrowded and they turned away crowds of people seeking treatment, with some patients dying right outside the gate. Cremation, the last favorite ritual for Hindus, spilled over into empty tracts, with so many bodies burned that the sky of Delhi turned ash gray.

The nightmare in India’s capital seems to be over, at least for now, even as cases are on the rise throughout the country. On Monday, the city reported 648 new cases, and about four-fifths of its intensive care beds were vacant.

Officials in Delhi and around India are feeling the need to find a balance between pandemic precautions and economic viability.

India released a new set on Monday figures that showed the country’s economy grew 1.6 percent in the three-month period ending in March.

But economists say these numbers, which reflected activity prior to the full impact of the ferocious second wave, are likely to be volatile in the current quarter, which ends June 30. Economists broadly project growth for the full fiscal year ending March 31, 2022, but the pace is uncertain.

Experts point to two main reasons: the lengthy quarantine regimes in India and the vaccination rate, which has dropped to just over a million doses per day from four million last month due to the limited number of vaccinations in the country. vaccine production capacity

While the restrictions have helped India slow the rise in infections, economists say the restrictions may need to be maintained at least until about 30 percent of the country’s 1.4 billion people receive one shot.

“We estimate that India will reach the vaccine threshold by mid to late August, and therefore expect the restrictions to be extended until the third quarter,” Priyanka Kishore, head of India and Southeast Asia at Oxford Economics, said in a study. briefing last week. “Consequently, we have lowered our growth forecast for 2021.”

She added that supply problems and hesitation over vaccines could prevent the country from reaching the 30 percent threshold by August, which could lead to further economic downturn.

One economist said the economic hit would be even more severe in rural areas.

“Currently, the scale, speed and spread of Covid has given a boost to the economy again,” said Dr. Sunil Kumar Sinha, chief economist at India Ratings and Research. Dr Sinha added that the country’s negative growth estimates for the previous fiscal year were the lowest ever recorded.

The lockdown, which began to ease on Monday, was nowhere near as severe as the nationwide lockdown imposed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last year, which forced millions of people to flee cities to rural areas, often on foot because the railroad and other modes of transport did not work. suspended. Mr. Modi has resisted calls from many epidemiologists, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, to restore similar restrictions this year.

But in deference to the chaos of last year’s isolation during the second wave, major infrastructure projects across the country, employing millions of domestic migrants, were freed from restrictions. Construction of over 15,000 miles of Indian motorways continued, along with improvements to rail and urban metro.

However, most of the private construction sites were closed, leaving workers like Ashok Kumar, a 36-year-old carpenter, in dire straits.

Mr. Kumar usually earns Rs 700, about $ 10 a day, but has been messing around at home for the past 40 days, unable to pay rent to an increasingly impatient homeowner. He hoped to be vaccinated before returning to close ties with other workers, but was unable to receive a dose at one of the city’s dispensaries, which periodically closed due to lack of vaccines.

“My top priority is my stomach,” said Mr. Kumar. “If my stomach is not full, I will die before the crown.”

At a meeting with the city’s disaster management office on Friday, Delhi’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the isolation would be eased in stages in line with economic needs.

“Our priority will be the weakest economic sectors, so we will start with workers, especially migrant workers,” many of whom work in construction and manufacturing, said Mr. Kejrival.

Millions of people in India are already at risk. falling out of the middle class into poverty… The country’s economy was depleted long before the pandemic due to deep structural problems and sometimes impetuous politics decisions of Mr. Modi.

Epidemiologists in India generally endorsed the Delhi government’s approach to lifting quarantines, but warned that low infection rates could mean a delay – not an end – of the capital’s terrifying second wave.

“This decision cannot be questioned on the merits, but it is clear that they must exercise the utmost caution,” said Dr. K. Srinath Reddy, President of the Public Health Foundation of India.

India has averaged 190,392 reported cases per day over the past week, more than 50 percent below the May 9 peak. The death toll also fell, albeit less dramatically, to 3,709 on Sunday. The total number of paid calls is 325,972 people. widely considered very underrated

As cases of the disease plummet in Delhi, people are cautiously leaving their homes for evening walks after the summer heat has subsided or to shop for groceries in the normally noisy but now quiet markets.

Elsewhere in India, the pandemic is far from over. Cases are on the rise in remote rural areas lacking health infrastructure.

The state of Haryana, which borders Delhi and is home to the industrial center of Gurugram, has extended its tough insulation for at least another week. And in the southern states of India, where daily cases remain high, official orders to allow production to resume have been met resistance from workers

“This is a matter of life, not a livelihood,” said M. Murthy, general secretary of the workers’ union at the Renault Nissan auto plant in Chennai.

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