Lessons from the first wave

Introducing even partial lockdowns again will widen our economic and social inequalities

Updated - April 16, 2021 12:31 am IST

Published - April 16, 2021 12:15 am IST

Migrant workers wait to board outstation trains at Mumbai’s Lokmanya Tilak Terminus on April 14, 2021.

Migrant workers wait to board outstation trains at Mumbai’s Lokmanya Tilak Terminus on April 14, 2021.

India’s second COVID-19 wave is more virulent than the first. Many States have restarted enforcing shutdowns of various scales. Unfortunately, large-scale political, social and religious events are still being held, rendering these restrictions meaningless.

Uneven growth

Our overall economic trajectory had been on the upswing after the disastrous economic collapse at the onset of the pandemic. The International Monetary Fund projected India’s GDP to grow at 12.5% this year. However, the growth during these times can hardly be described as inclusive. Many sectors, including the technological, pharmaceutical and healthcare sectors, saw record growth. The wealth of our billionaires increased by 35% even during COVID-19 times.

Also read | Migrant workers vulnerable again, say activists

However, sectors including travel and tourism and wellness and hospitality, that form the bedrock of economies, receded to historic lows. The pandemic decimated the informal and MSME sector and pushed 75 million Indians into poverty. An unplanned nationwide lockdown last year created the distressing imagery of the exodus by foot of millions of migrant workers desperate to reach their homes hundreds of kilometres away. Meanwhile, a few among us, especially in white collar sectors like IT, consulting and financial services, could stay in the safety of our homes.

Even before the second wave, many economists were of the view that India’s revival from the COVID-19-induced downturn would be a ‘K-shaped’ curve where only a segment of our population recovers.

COVID-19 has affected the least affluent the most. Introducing even partial lockdowns again will constrain the movement of goods and labourers. It will significantly bring down our industrial productivity and create avenues that will widen our economic and social inequalities.


As an alternative, interconnected industries should be aggregated and allowed to function at maximum possible capacity in multiple shifts. Stringent health and safety regulations should be formulated and implemented. Non-essential gatherings should be restricted or banned.

Preventing distress

Demand contraction has been the biggest contributor towards the economic downturn during the pandemic. Governments will have to account for this and urgently ensure cash stimulus packages at both individual and institutional levels. This will boost consumption and investments. Extra emphasis will have to be given to industries most affected by the pandemic. Additional allocations will have to be made for job stamps, direct cash transfer and employment guarantee schemes. The NYAY scheme formulated by the Congress in 2019 that guarantees a minimum income of ₹6,000 to every household is a solution whose time has come.

Also read | The migrant worker as a ghost among citizens

Reports from many States indicate that new COVID-19 mutations are unforgiving even to the younger population. India will have to accelerate vaccine production, procurement and distribution. Vaccination should be opened up for all age groups. This would make it easier for the majority of our labour to be at their workplaces with fewer risks. Students will also be able to attend classes and examinations and participate in skilling programmes without further breaks.

As the second wave hits us, our governments share the blame for our health systems to again be caught lacking; and for vaccine shortages. However, since the onset of the pandemic, our health workers and policymakers have had enough time to be familiar with the virus, and design effective treatment and safety protocols. The private sector and NGOs played a big role in rapidly scaling up healthcare infrastructure during the first wave. With political will and public participation, we should now be able to save lives without compromising on our population’s livelihood, or without letting many more fall behind through inadequate safety nets.

Anil K. Antony is a National Co-coordinator of AICC Social Media and Digital Communications Department, and National Coordinator of PIIndia.org, a COVID-19 action group. He tweets @anilkantony

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