India and Pakistan plan to restart economic activity amid lockdown

India and Pakistan plan to reopen parts of their economies as harsh lockdowns threaten the livelihoods of millions

  • India has seen more than 9,000 cases of coronavirus so far with 308 deaths 
  • The country, which has a population of 1.3 billion, is under a 21-day lockdown  
  • India’s PM has asked his cabinet to come up with plans to open up key industries 
  • Pakistan’s command and control authority was due to meet today to decide whether or not they should extend the country’s lockdown beyond April 15
  • Learn more about how to help people impacted by COVID

India and Pakistan are planning to open up some parts of their economies as strict lockdowns to battle Covid-19 threaten the livelihoods of millions in the region.

Indian officials said the number of coronavirus cases in the country increased to 9,152 on Monday, including 308 deaths – a swift rise from fewer than 1,000 two weeks ago.

The country of 1.3 billion people is under a sweeping 21-day lockdown, which has left millions of people without work – and the World Bank warned that India’s economic growth could drop to 2.8% in the fiscal year that started on April 1, the weakest pace in three decades.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has asked his cabinet colleagues to come up with plans to open up some crucial industries as the livelihoods of millions of people were at stake, a government source involved the deliberations said.

One plan is to restart some manufacturing in the autos, textiles, defence and electronics sectors, according to a government note that Reuters has reviewed. Firms could start a quarter of their operations while ensuring social distancing, the note said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has asked his cabinet colleagues to come up with plans to open up some crucial industries as the livelihoods of millions of people were at stake, a government source involved the deliberations said

‘As the prime minister has indicated, we will have to move towards economic activity, while taking utmost care of the lockdown and social distancing,’ said Manohar Lal Khattar, chief minister of the northern state of Haryana.

He said he planned to divide his state into three zones – a red zone where there have been the most cases of coronavirus, followed by orange with fewer cases, and green where no outbreak has been reported. The federal government may employ a similar plan, officials said.

‘In the green zone, small and medium industries will be allowed to start operations, provided the entrepreneur gives us an undertaking to fulfil the guidelines in letter and spirit. We want small industries to start operations at lower capacity first,’ Khattar, a close ally of Modi, said.

The lockdown ends at midnight on Tuesday and Modi is due to take a decision on whether it should be extended. Several states have urged for an extension as the infection spreads through densely packed communities, but they also want a less sweeping shutdown.

Pakistan’s command and control authority, led by Prime Minister Imran Khan and consisting of the civil and military leadership, was due to meet on Monday to decide whether to extend the countrywide lockdown beyond April 15, two cabinet ministers said.

‘I am sure we are going to have at least a 10-day extension, or a couple of weeks,’ one of the ministers said.

He said the meeting will also give a go-ahead to seal virus hot spots, the pockets there is widespread incidence of the disease.

The ministers said the meeting will also lay out a phase- wise plan of reopening some industry, mainly the construction and export sectors, adding that business owners will have to give undertakings to adhere to safety measures and ensure disinfection of their factories. They will be allowed to function only with a reduced workforce.

Pakistan has recorded 5,374 cases of the virus, with 93 deaths. ‘The biggest worry now is people dying of hunger. The dilemma on one side is stopping people dying from the virus, and on the other hand, preventing deaths from hunger as a result of the lockdown,’ Khan said in a video message on Sunday.

A worker rides a tricycle on a deserted street during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Siliguri

Pakistan has appealed to international stakeholders for urgent debt relief for developing countries so they can deal more effectively with the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, the government said. 

Prime Minister Imran Khan, in a video message released by the foreign office, said he was worried people in the developing world would die due to the lockdowns.

Khan said: ‘Pakistan with a population of 220million, so far the best stimulus package we can afford is $8billion.’

He added highly indebted countries lack fiscal space to spend on health and social support.

Pakistan, which is over $100billion in debt to foreign lenders and spends the largest chunk of its budget on debt servicing, last week began a $900million cash disbursement programme to 12million poor families unemployed due to lockdowns.

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