Modi Urges India’s States to Shun Lockdowns as Virus Surges

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who last year imposed a strict lockdown on short notice, asked states to avoid shutting businesses as the South Asian nation grapples with a new wave of Covid-19 infections that threatens a nascent economic revival.

The South Asian nation is now the world’s second-worst hit country, lagging only the U.S., after reporting more than 200,000 daily new infections every day for the last week, and a record daily death toll of 2,023 on Wednesday.

“I urge states that they should consider lockdowns as the last option,” Modi said in a televised address late Tuesday. “They should earnestly try to avoid lockdown and focus on micro-containment zones.”

Modi Urges India’s States to Shun Lockdowns as Virus Surges

As infections rise the country’s health system has been pushed to breaking point, with hospitals 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.

In images reminiscent of India’s first strict lockdown in late March last year where hundreds of thousands of workers fled cities, thousands crowded into bus terminals in Delhi earlier this week trying to get home after their income suddenly dried up with the new lockdown.

Meanwhile, least six of India’s 30 chief ministers, two federal ministers and opposition leader Rahul Gandhi, have all tested positive for the virus in recent days.

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.

Modi Urges India’s States to Shun Lockdowns as Virus Surges

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 Tuesday.

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.

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