A spike in Covid-19 cases melts the markets as India battles equipment shortage

Fighting the pandemic.
Fighting the pandemic.
Image: REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
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India is now truly in the grips of the coronavirus crisis and a shortage of facilities, equipment, and logistics.

The country has reported 415 positive cases till today (March 23) following a spike, with seven dead. As it moved deeper into a state of lockdown, the markets again reflected the state of affairs.

Trading in the country’s equity markets was halted today (March 23) for 45 minutes after the benchmark BSE Sensex hit its 10% lower circuit level. At the time of publishing, the index was down nearly 3,600 points—12% lower than yesterday’s closing. The Nifty50 index of the National Stock Exchange, too, was down over 1,000 points, or 11.6%, since yesterday.

Various states and the central government have initiated a tight shutdown amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Indian Railways, too, has suspended passenger services till March 31.

The industry has taken a pause, too. Automobiles is in a virtual shutdown: Maruti, India’s largest carmaker, has closed its Gurugram plant; Hero MotoCorp has halted operations the world over. Other companies that have shut down include Mahindra & Mahindra, Honda, and MG Motor India.

Banks have decided to operate with limited staff from today, providing only essential services, including cash deposits and withdrawals, clearing of cheques, remittances, and government transactions.

Watch and jewellery maker Titan has pulled down shutters, too.

Lab strength

Yesterday, responding to Modi’s call to express gratitude to emergency workers, millions of Indians clapped, banged, and played percussion instruments at 5 pm.

However, several medical personnel took to Twitter to seek more equipment and tools instead.

The government’s claims of having enough testing kits have been shown to be hollow by several media reports.

These concerns were expressed after the government yesterday said labs under the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the department of atomic energy could now do Covid-19 sample testing.

This is besides the labs under the departments of biotechnology and science & technology and hose under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research.

On March 21, the government allowed National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration-accredited private laboratories to begin testing. It, however, issued guidelines capping the cost of such testing at Rs4,500 (nearly $60).