Metropolitan cities in India, in particular, are bearing the brunt of the spread of covid-19, with the efforts of governments to contain the pandemic not achieving the desired impact. These cities have been hugely affected both on the health and economic fronts as businesses remain shut and the disease rages on unabated.
Metros in India—Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bangalore— are all severely affected by covid-19; but, of the lot, Mumbai and Delhi are the worst hit.
A report focused on Asia’s mega cities released by Barclays in April, stated the covid-19 outbreak has had a “particularly profound” impact on the functioning of Asia’s megacities and the clusters around them. “We find that the absolute economic loss is likely be the largest from the shutdown of Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Delhi and Mumbai, ranging from $1 billion-$1.7 billion (about Rs75.2 billion-Rs127.8 billion as of 5.40 pm on 13 July) per week,” the report said.
Economists attribute the effect of covid on metros to their having greater concentration of non-farm output.
“Concentration of activities in large cities results in productivity gains and hence real wages are also higher in metros compared with small and medium sized towns. That is why rural-to-large-city migration in India is high even while rural-to-all-urban-areas migration is only moderate,” said Arup Mitra, a professor of economics at the Institute of Economic Growth, University of Dehli.
The displacement of people has, therefore, created a critical situation in metros in terms of their economy and across businesses of all sizes.
“The informal sector in the metros is more dynamic than its small-town counterparts. If such opportunities get curtailed, livelihood hardships will increase, which cannot be compensated in any manner. There are many people in the metros who are not migrants. Hence even if the government offers rural employment opportunities, these non-migrants will not be able to benefit,”’ said Mitra.
“Shutdown in large cities means major economic losses and decline in livelihood. Spread of the disease is a matter of concern but the solution is not to shut down. While have to be careful , economic activities must go on,” he said.
According to Mitra, the alternative is the initiation of policies with greater thought behind them, rather than closing down everything and inflicting suffering upon ourselves.
States, nonetheless, have already started announcing lockdowns. Uttar Pradesh, for instance, has announced a two-day weekend lockdown from Friday night to Monday morning to curb the spread of the virus. Punjab has also announced stricter curbs over the weekend and a complete lockdown on Sunday. Madhya Pradesh, too, announced a similar lockdown on Sunday.
Health economists, however, underscore the need to focus on testing, contact tracing, home isolation and containment within zones, rather than locking down a whole city, district or state.
“Lockdowns in countries such as India are disastrous as wage earners and informal workers constitute a large share of the income-earning population here; such measures are proving to be counterproductive,” said Sakthivel Selvaraj, director, Health Economics, Financing and Policy, Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), a PPP initiative towards public health.
“Initial lockdowns were useful in terms of buying time to strengthen Indian healthcare system’s capacity; but unfortunately, we did not have much success on improving the capacity of the system,” he said.
Pretika Khanna has contributed to this story