India’s Response to COVID-19 and Disaster Risk Reduction
The first case of COVID-19 in India was reported on January 30, 2020, and the number of cases continued to rise. Prime Minister Modi announced on March 24, 2020, that the entire country will go under lockdown, with localized lockdowns in containment zones extended to September 30, 2020. Prior to the March announcement, numerous containment measures had already been imposed, varying in intensity across the country, including travel restrictions; closing educational establishments, gyms, museums, and theatres, ban on mass gatherings, and encouraging firms to promote remote work.
The economic impact of COVID-19 has been substantial and broad-based. The GDP contracted sharply in the fiscal second quarter, Q2 2020, due to the unprecedented lockdowns to control the spread of COVID-19. In its fight against the pandemic, India faced unique challenges with multiple land, sea and air entry ports including open land borders; large amounts of international and domestic tourists; high population density, particularly in urban areas; inadequate public health infrastructure; and socio-economic and cultural practices that require mass gatherings.
At an early stage, steps were taken to induct eminent experts to analyse possible scenarios and prepare a medical emergency plan, which helped with a systematic and effective response to the crisis. Given the large population, even if a small percentage of infected persons require hospitalization or critical care, it would overwhelm the country’s already stretched healthcare system. This meant that India needed to ‘flatten the curve’ so as to allow sufficient medical attention for those who contracted COVID-19.
The government constituted eleven Empowered Groups in exercise of the powers conferred on it under the Disaster Management Act, 2005. The “Empower Group” led by a Secretary-level officer from the relevant ministry was tasked to contain and manage this pandemic in collaboration with state governments, Union Territory administrations, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and all other stakeholders including citizens of the country.
These groups were empowered to identify problem areas and provide effective solutions.