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The Trillion-Dollar Question With COVID-19

Publication

Think Global Health: An Initiative of the Council on Foreign Relations

Authors

Luke Shors is a writer and entrepreneur currently on sabbatical in Asia with his family.

Michael Ferrari is the global head of climate and agronomic decision sciences with Syngenta and senior fellow at Wharton Customer Analytics.


Introduction

Right now India is completing more than a month of national lockdown and moving toward some loosening of restrictions in less infected areas. The implications of stopping the movement and activity of 1.3 billion people would be hard to overstate. Ironically, one of the many side effects of the policy has been the migration of millions of poor people who lacked the resources to shelter in place for the duration of the lockdown. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi faced a terrible choice: lock down the country with massive economic and social repercussions, or leave the country open and allow an outbreak of perhaps unparalleled scale in the history of the world.

How will the government continue to adjust its strategy in the coming months? In some ways, the harmful consequences of lockdown are more obvious than the successes, as we will never know how the virus could have spread in the absence of the lockdown. Given that COVID-19 was not eradicated in India during the lockdown, an easing up in May, June and July without robust surveillance risks igniting the pandemic. This begs the question of whether India can remain in a partial lockdown. If so, for how long without catastrophic economic and social damage? How does a country like India weigh the implications and timing of lockdowns to achieve the maximum containment with the fewest side effects?