India eases some COVID-19 restrictions to revive economic momentum

New Delhi, Apr 20 (efe-epa).- India on Monday eased some restrictions to allow select economic activities amid a nationwide lockdown imposed to stem the spread of the new coronavirus, which has so far killed 559 people in the world’s second-most populous country.

The government reprieve is mainly aimed at easing pressure on agricultural activities, as millions of farmers are set to harvest crops like wheat, gram, lentil and mustard, grown in the winter season.

More than half of the workforce in the predominantly agrarian Indian economy is engaged in farming.

The government also allowed public construction works on roads, irrigation projects, and industrial projects in rural areas to help generate jobs for daily wage earners and ease hardships for those hit by the prolonged lockdown that has stalled Asia’s third-largest economy.

However, those involved in public works programs have to follow strict social distancing norms.

The government also allowed the restoration of the supply chain in agricultural businesses and the movement of trucks carrying essential supplies to different cities.

India is under lockdown to arrest the spread of the infection until May 3. The government first imposed the stay-home restrictions on Mar.14 for 21 days and later extended them for another 19 days.

The lockdown has increased the rate of unemployment in the country and the sectors in which restrictions were eased are considered major sources of rural employment.

Last week the government had announced several relaxations in restrictions, however on Sunday authorities said some of the measures would not be implemented.

These includes the delivery of non-essential items such as mobile phones, computers, and refrigerators by e-commerce firms.

No reprieve was given in the areas designated as “hotspots” for the coronavirus, including the capital New Delhi and some other major cities.

Domestic and international flights and inter-state travel continues to be suspended.

The sectors exempted from the lockdown include banks, ATMs, IT vendors and cash management agencies, in a move aimed at ensuring the supply of currency to people.

The government had already exempted public utilities such as operations of the oil and gas sector, postal services, and power generation from the restrictions.

As of Monday at least 17,615 coronavirus cases of the infection have been reported in the country of 1.3 billion, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker.

The figures indicate that the country, which has some of the most-densely crowded cities in the world, has escaped with a relatively minor outbreak compared to Western nations like the United States, Italy and Spain.

However, health experts have expressed concerns that the numbers could be misleading and may not represent the ground reality in the absence of widespread testing in India.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week claimed that India was not as severely affected as other countries because of the preventive measures his government took before the problem could aggravate.

However, the country’s $2.9 trillion-economy that was already in crisis, experiencing its highest unemployment rate in decades, has been devastated due to the lockdown.

The government has been found wanting in rolling out adequate measures to address the growing financial and humanitarian crisis, although it did declare a relief package earlier.

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