Circumstances are rising as India races to vaccinate its inhabitants

A health worker delivers a dose of COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Bhopal, India on March 25, 2021.

STR | Xinhua News Agency | Getty Images

India’s Covid-19 cases are on the rise again and the country’s richest state is hit hard.

Maharashtra – home of India’s financial capital Mumbai – reported more than 248,000 new cases in just seven days, according to CNBC’s calculation of government data.

The country’s second most populous state accounted for 57% of all cases reported in India over the same period. Infection cases have increased since mid-February, but the death rate remains relatively low.

There are more than 580,000 active cases in total in India, or about 4.78% of all positive cases, according to the daily update from the Ministry of Health on Thursday. Five states – Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Chhattisgarh, and Punjab – account for 78.9% of all active cases in India, most of them in the western state of Maharashtra.

The Maharashtra government imposed a curfew last Sunday and banned all gatherings, including political and religious ones. A mask mandate was also enforced.

As authorities debate further restrictions to curb the spread of the virus, local media reports say a full state lockdown – similar to last year’s nationwide lockdown – may not be in sight.

Billionaire businessman Anand Mahindra, chairman of the Mumbai-based conglomerate Mahindra Group, said on Twitter this week that a lockdown would harm “the poor, migrant workers and small businesses.” Instead, he urged Maharashtra’s prime minister to focus on building hospitals and health infrastructure and avoiding Covid-related deaths.

Economic impact limited

The economic impact of the second wave of coronavirus infection in India appears to be localized for now, Citi economists said in a report this week.

“Both the geographic spread of Covid and the lower appetite of policymakers would keep the 2021 lockdowns more local and less stringent,” said economists Samiran Chakraborty and Baqar M Zaidi. They pointed out that more than half of active Covid cases are concentrated in 10 cities, eight of them in Maharashtra.

These 10 cities only account for around 10% to 12% of India’s GDP, according to Chakraborty and Zaidi.

“As such, localized lockdowns in these cities are unlikely to massively disrupt economic activity in the country,” they said, adding that they remain concerned about the contact-based service industry who are likely to suffer more due to the second wave of Covid.

The nationwide lockdown last year put India in a technical recession and disproportionately affected small business owners and workers in the informal sector. In the first wave, the infection rate peaked in September.

India is also preparing for upcoming state elections and regional festivals, which often attract large crowds, emphasized Radhika Rao, Indian economist at DBS Group in Singapore. She said increased preventive measures are needed to slow the spread of the virus.

In a recent notice, she said the ongoing vaccination campaign may act as a speed breaker to slow the outbreak.

Vaccination drive

India launched one of the largest in the world Mass vaccination campaigns in January with the original goal of vaccinating around 300 million people, including frontline workers, the elderly, and those with underlying health conditions.

From Thursday, people aged 45 and over will be able to take Covid recordings in India regardless of their state of health. Last week, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said there were plans to expand this age group to include more people.

Health ministry data on Thursday showed India had given more than 65 million vaccine doses as of 7 a.m. local time.

At the current rate, it could take the South Asian nation 2.4 years to vaccinate 75% of its population, according to a recent report by the New Delhi-based think tank Observer Research Foundation. This is usually the minimum percentage of the population that needs to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity at which the disease can no longer spread widely within the community.

Like most countries, India has been faced with vaccination skepticism and a range of misinformation that could potentially slow New Delhi’s vaccination efforts.

Indian Health Minister Rajesh Bhushan this week urged people over 45 to register for the vaccination and said during a press conference that “vaccine hesitation must go away”. He also reportedly urged states to step up preventive measures against lax coronavirus immediately to avoid overloading the health system with a surge in infections.

In total, India has reported more than 12.2 million cases of infection since last January and over 162,900 people have died. The majority of patients have recovered from the disease.

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