In late March 2020, India began its 21-day national lockdown, designed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus throughout the country. Affecting 1.3 billion people, or nearly one-fifth of the global population, it is the world’s largest nation-wide lockdown. As of the time of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement of the lockdown, India had confirmed only 600 cases of the virus. The fear, however, was that the virus could spread to devastating effect given the country’s weak public health system and high population density. The lockdown is being enforced by India’s police force, with officers stopping and questioning motorists to find out why they are outside.
Grocery stores have been allowed to remain open, but most are empty, and Indians have reported that it is difficult to find food. Furthermore, many Indians, particularly those in the poorer 50% of the population, have no savings. Their inability to work means that they could literally starve absent government intervention. Mr. Modi has indicated that a government stimulus plan is forthcoming, but what that will look like and whether it will be enough to soften the blow for India’s workforce remains to be seen.