COVID -19 in India: Challenges and Successes

Livelihoods and economic shocks

COVID -19 in India: Challenges and Successes

India in a state of war against coronavirus” - Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India

COVID-19 has multi-faceted implications on the health and wellbeing of individuals as well as for the economy in general. India with a population of 1·4 billion and rampant poverty faces high risk of potential infections and deaths arising from Covid.

Lock-down in India

While the first case was reported on January 30, 2020, India went into a nationwide lockdown at the end of March, 2020, which was extended thrice, making it the longest lockdown ever. During the 75 days of lockdown, only essential services were allowed and educational institutions, flights, hospitality services and large gatherings of any kind were prohibited. Various steps were initiated to boost health infrastructure and a campaign on the importance of social distancing and personal hygiene was commenced.Governmnet of India (“GoI”) also launched ‘Aarogya Setu’ App on April 2nd, 2020[1],

Despite the GoI advising employers to not lay off or reduce the wages of the employees (especially casual and daily workers), the workforce shrunk by 122 million in April. With factories and workplaces shut, millions of migrant workers faced a loss of livelihood.

Unlocking of India and Stimulus Packages

Keeping the aforesaid situation in mind, GoI initiated Unlock 1.0 on June 8, 2020 and various restrictions were relaxed.

On May 16, the GoI announced the National Migrant Information System, an online database to streamline the movement of the migrant workers. State Governments also set up camps to quarantine the returning migrants with the aim of curbing the virus spread. During these measures it is reported that 9.7 million migrants returned home, while 2.6 million were stranded at relief camps, worksites, or other clusters.

Subsequently, the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat (Self-reliant India)’ stimulus package was announced in May 2020 to address the slowdown of the economy[2] and financial assistance was extended to States.

In terms of relief measures targeted at the poor and vulnerable, the $23 billion Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PM-GKY) relief package[3] was criticised as it reallocates funding across existing budgets rather than mobilizing additional funding. GoI also launched the ‘Garib Kalyan Rojgar Yojana’ to provide employment opportunities to migrant workers in their home States[4].

Impact of COVID on Education

Children and youth are affected by the shutting down of educational institutions and despite the impetus towards online classes through schemes like e-Vidya (Erpula, 2020), there exists a huge digital divide that excludes vulnerable populations of students with no/limited internet facilities. While State educational institutes are attempting to upgrade infrastructure and teachers’ pedagogical skills to provide effective online education, this remains an uphill task.

Covid-19- Cases and Recovery

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As seen in the figure above, the epidemic has shown exponential growth[5]. As of August 13, 2020, India ranks third across the world in the total number of confirmed cases with over 2.4 million being recorded across the country and over 48,156 associated deaths. However, the number of confirmed cases and deaths per million of the population are significantly low at 1784 and 35, respectively.

India faces a shortage of healthcare personnel.[6] Additionally, existing hospitals are poorly equipped and have inadequate infrastructure[7].

While the Indian government has been trying its best to address challenges related to health and socio-economic well-being of its citizens, it is amply clear that the war against COVID is far from over. It is time to invest in infrastructure and create systems that are accessible to all.


[1] This is a contact tracing, syndromic mapping and self-assessment digital service. It is reported to have reached 100 million individuals.

[2] This stimulus package is estimated at $110 billion, roughly 10 percent of India’s GDP.

[3] Provides 5 kg of wheat and rice and 1 kg of pulse for free in addition to the current 5 kg allocation under the Public Distribution System.

[4] Under the rural-centric employment generation scheme, GoI intends to provide 125 days employment to migrant workers in six States.

[5] During the 6-week period beginning on May 2, 2020, the number of districts with confirmed cases increased from 359 (or 56% of all districts) to 627 (98% of all districts).

[6] For example, there is only one government doctor for more than 11,500 people as opposed to one for every 1,000 as recommended by WHO. There is a shortage of 2,188 community health centres, 6,430 primary health centres and 32,900 sub-centres. 

[7] This can be attributed to the low public health expenditure (sum of central and state spending) which has remained between 1.2% to 1.6% of GDP between 2001-09 and 2019-20.