Small businesses in India have taken the lead to fight the deadly second wave of Covid-19, even as the country’s political leadership continued to brazenly flout all protocols.
On April 15, a traders’ association in Uttar Pradesh’s Lucknow announced a voluntarily shut down in some of the city’s main markets to break the Covid-19 chain. While some markets remained shut until April 18, in other areas the lockdown has been extended until April 21.
On April 18, traders in Delhi’s Chandani Chowk market also decided to keep their shops shut until April 25.
The trend of self-imposed lockdown is catching up in the hinterland, too. For example, in some of Gujarat’s villages, traders have announced partial lockdowns following the state government’s failure to handle the covid crisis.
These voluntary shutdowns can cost small businesses a lot. While many stand to make no income during the days they are closed, some might even risk going under.
Yet, the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), a trade body with access to at least 20,000 trade associations across India, had urged Delhi chief minister to consider a 10-day lockdown across the city to curb the spread of the virus. “It is very important to break the chain and for that, it is very important to put a complete lockdown for at least 10 days in Delhi,” CAIT secretary general Praveen Khandelwal said. “Traders of Delhi stand with the government and will continue supplies of essential commodities uninterruptedly.”
Small traders decided to make these sacrifices at a time when India’s prime minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah were still holding massive political rallies in West Bengal to campaign for the ongoing elections in the state.
The massive West Bengal rallies
On April 18, India reported 273,810 cases of Covid-19, the highest single-day spike so far. This is the fourth straight day that the country has posted more than 200,000 cases a day. The country has seen over 170,000 deaths due to Covid-19 so far, and the second wave is proving to be far more fatal than the first as several reports have claimed that crematoriums across the country are overburdened.
The situation had started getting out of hand around 10 days ago when the country’s daily Covid-19 infection count crossed 150,000.
But, Modi held a massive rally in West Bengal’s Gangarampur on April 17.
In fact, today (April 19), Bhartiya Janata Party’s president JP Nadda and Shah are scheduled to hold multiple rallies despite a staggering increase in the covid cases in the state.
Unaffected by the statistics, political leaders are proudly sharing videos of their rallies on social media where crowds were seen huddled together with no Covid-19 protocols being followed.
Today (April 19), the Delhi government announced a week-long curfew that starts tonight. “Delhi will be under curfew from tonight till early morning next Monday. All private offices will be directed to work from home. Only those dealing with essential services will be allowed. Government offices will also be allowed. Other essential services will also be permitted,” said a senior government official told Hindustan Times.
Meanwhile, the Modi government has still shown no intentions of implementing stricter restrictions to break the chain. “Earlier we did not have the infrastructure to deal with the pandemic and we had to use lockdown as a tool…but today we do not need a lockdown,” Modi had said on April 8 while addressing a meeting with state chief ministers.
Defending their move, on April 18, in an interview with a national daily, Shah emphasised the relevance of elections despite the pandemic. “When elections are announced, we do not have any option,” he said.
On April 18, Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi said he has called off all his political rallies in West Bengal to avoid large gatherings, however, but members of his party have expressed displeasure at this decision.
India’s healthcare system gasping for breath
As the political leadership continues to disappoint, India’s healthcare system is down on its knees. Many states have said they are running out of oxygen cylinders to treat their Covid-19 patients. Hospitals are also running out of drugs like Remdesivir and vaccines.