June 15, 2021

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As India resists calls for a national lockdown, one economist says states should decide – CNBC

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi is under growing pressure to call for another nationwide lockdown in India as the overwhelmed health-care system struggles to fight a devastating second Covid-19 wave.

But one member of Modi’s economic advisory council says state governments should have the final say in social restrictions instead.

“All things considered, the current policy of leaving it to different states, to take local circumstances into account, and decide on a lockdown strategy – I think it is a better one on balance,” V. Anantha Nageswaran, part-time member of the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” on Tuesday.

Calls for a national lockdown — like the one imposed last year between late-March and May — have grown louder as India’s health-care system buckles, and patients are turned away due to shortages of hospital beds, medical oxygen and medicines needed to treat the disease.

Top White House coronavirus advisor Anthony Fauci also said in an interview with ABC News on Sunday that India needs to shut down in order to break the chains of transmission.

So far, the central government has resisted calls for a lockdown, allowing states to step up their own localized restrictions, including lockdowns and curfews.

Instead, the government is focusing its efforts on delivering global aid received — including oxygen concentrators, cylinders, and generation plants as well as anti-viral drug Remdesivir — to affected areas. The country is also stepping up its vaccination campaign.

People aged 18 and over waiting to be inoculated against Covid-19 at a vaccination centre at Radha Soami Satsang grounds being run by BLK-Max hospital on May 4, 2021 in New Delhi, India.

Hindustan Times | Hindustan Times | Getty Images

Nageswaran explained that at this point, the benefits of a nationwide lockdown will not significantly outweigh the costs. He added that the surge in cases is still relatively localized in different pockets instead of at a national level.

India has reported more than 300,000 daily cases for 20 consecutive days. On Tuesday, however, the health ministry said its data showed a net decline in the total active cases over a 24-hour period for the first time in 61 days.

India’s death toll from the coronavirus is close to 250,000.

Economic growth trajectory

Last year’s national lockdown knocked India off its growth trajectory, pushing the economy into a technical recession. Prior to the second wave of infections, the economy was slowly on the mend — but economists are now predicting the recovery will be delayed in light of the current situation.

There is a growing possibility that localized lockdowns will likely continue until June or beyond, and given the current pace of vaccination, any attempt to fully reopen the economy could result in a potential third wave of infections, Kunal Kundu, India economist at investment bank Societe Generale, said in a recent note.

Kundu said the bank had a forecast of 9.5% year-on-year real GDP growth for India’s fiscal year ending in March 2022, that was below market consensus. But even that target is no longer tenable as it was based on the assumption that the economy will open up sooner due to a rapid pace of vaccination.

“With localised lockdowns until June and beyond, this adds downside risk to our existing growth forecast. We now expect real GDP to clock growth of 8.5% for the current year,” Kundu said.

India’s Covid crisis

He added that India’s ability to track the new variants will be key to preventing subsequent waves. For that, the country “needs to earmark more fiscal resources for genomic surveillance and vaccine research,” and ensure all temporary Covid-19 care centers are still operational, he said.

Nageswaran added that if India’s Covid-19 cases do not peak in the next two weeks, and if it drags into the next quarter, the country’s pre-pandemic level growth trajectory will be harder to achieve until the 2022-2023 financial year.

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