(Bloomberg Opinion) -- The largest lockdown in history is not, to put it mildly, going as planned. Within a few days of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announcing on national television that the country was being shut down for three weeks, hundreds of thousands took to the country’s highways, marching long distances back to their home towns and villages. Others thronged bus stations—the trains are not running—hoping for a bus back home. At least 22 people have reportedly died in the mass migration, exhausted and hungry.The point of India’s lockdown, as elsewhere, is to prevent transmission of the novel coronavirus. But, if anything, this vast movement of people likely means the virus will find its way to the poorer rural parts of India where it could do the most damage. There’s certainly little social distancing in evidence in the photos of thousands of people jostling each other waiting for buses.All this could—and should—have been avoided. There was no need for the government in Delhi not to prepare citizens for what a lockdown would entail. Nor was the government itself anywhere near prepared for what the crisis would ask of its own resources.It can make no excuses for this failure. Given how minimal quarantining and testing has been, it’s been obvious for weeks now that some kind of Wuhan-style shutdown was inevitable in the world’s second-biggest country. And yet the government seems to have worked harder on its own public-relations battle than on figuring out how the lockdown would affect India’s poorest people.This reflects something deeply callous about the Indian state. The government should have recognized that those who earn a daily wage, who might not be able to make rent or even eat, would need to leave cities for their homes in the countryside. Part of the reason it didn’t is that these people have always been invisible to the Indian state. Successive governments have sought to set up welfare systems targeting farmers, or workers in the formal factory sector, or rural women. And, when this administration’s relief package was announced, it was precisely those groups who received aid.Yet those who have taken to India’s highways are the urban poor and recent migrants, who receive very little welfare because they made the mistake of moving away from the villages where they vote and receive their food ration. By relying in this crisis on the same welfare system that pretends they don’t exist, the government left them with no other option but to pack up and leave.Officials probably didn’t want to get adventurous about their relief package and push out more money, quickly, through the channels that already exist. But, as I argued last week, any such shutdown requires the government to move beyond its comfort zone and do things it hasn’t before. At the very least, Modi himself should have had words of reassurance for those most at risk when he announced the shutdown. Part of the Modi mystique is that he himself emerged from relative poverty, making his government’s blindness to the poor at this moment that much more depressing.The scenes that played out after the lockdown—policemen beating up grocery shoppers and deliverymen, exhausted 90-year-old ladies walking 400 kilometers, migrants being hosed down by a chlorine solution—have exposed the cruelty that too often infects India’s dysfunctional state machinery. This is awful at any time but it’s particularly dangerous now, when the lockdown’s success as a public health measure depends upon public cooperation and trust in the government.This deafness to the needs of its own citizens is, in fact, part of why the Indian state struggles to respond to emergencies. Yes, India is a democracy and its leaders are accountable to citizens. But the state itself does not always behave like a democracy should. Democracies do well when every level of the state machinery works to anticipate what people need. Here in India we have authoritarian instincts combined with democratic liberties. It makes for an ineffective combination—and one that is particularly ill-suited to fighting a pandemic or minimizing human suffering.This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Mihir Sharma is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He was a columnist for the Indian Express and the Business Standard, and he is the author of “Restart: The Last Chance for the Indian Economy.”For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- China has concealed the extent of the coronavirus outbreak in its country, under-reporting both total cases and deaths it’s suffered from the disease, the U.S. intelligence community concluded in a classified report to the White House, according to three U.S. officials.The officials asked not to be identified because the report is secret, and they declined to detail its contents. But the thrust, they said, is that China’s public reporting on cases and deaths is intentionally incomplete. Two of the officials said the report concludes that China’s numbers are fake.The report was received by the White House last week, one of the officials said.The outbreak began in China’s Hubei province in late 2019, but the country has publicly reported only about 82,000 cases and 3,300 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. That compares to more than 189,000 cases and more than 4,000 deaths in the U.S., which has the largest publicly reported outbreak in the world.U.S. President Donald Trump said Wednesday that China’s reported virus data appear to be on the “light side” but that he hadn’t received an intelligence report saying the country had concealed the extent of its outbreak.“Their numbers seem to be a little bit on the light side, and I’m being nice when I say that,” he said at a daily coronavirus briefing at the White House.Trump added that the U.S. and China were in constant communication and that Beijing would spend $250 billion to purchase American products. “We’d like to keep it, they’d like to keep it” he said of the U.S.-China trade deal.Communications staff at the White House and the Chinese embassy in Washington didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.‘More Forthcoming’“The reality is that we could have been better off if China had been more forthcoming,” Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday on CNN. “What appears evident now is that long before the world learned in December that China was dealing with this, and maybe as much as a month earlier than that, that the outbreak was real in China.While China eventually imposed a strict lockdown beyond those of less autocratic nations, there has been considerable skepticism toward China’s reported numbers, both outside and within the country. The Chinese government has repeatedly revised its methodology for counting cases, for weeks excluding people without symptoms entirely, and only on Tuesday added more than 1,500 asymptomatic cases to its total.Stacks of thousands of urns outside funeral homes in Hubei province have driven public doubt in Beijing’s reporting.Republican lawmakers in the U.S. have been particularly harsh about China’s role in the outbreak. Enhancing Beijing’s role in the pandemic could be politically helpful to Trump, who has sought to shift blame for the U.S. outbreak away from his administration’s delays in achieving widespread testing for the virus and mobilizing greater production of supplies such as face masks and hospital ventilators.“The claim that the United States has more coronavirus deaths than China is false,” Senator Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, said in a statement after Bloomberg News published its report. “Without commenting on any classified information, this much is painfully obvious: The Chinese Communist Party has lied, is lying, and will continue to lie about coronavirus to protect the regime.”Deborah Birx, the State Department immunologist advising the White House on its response to the outbreak, said Tuesday that China’s public reporting influenced assumptions elsewhere in the world about the nature of the virus.“The medical community made -- interpreted the Chinese data as: This was serious, but smaller than anyone expected,” she said at a news conference on Tuesday. “Because I think probably we were missing a significant amount of the data, now that what we see happened to Italy and see what happened to Spain.”Suspect ReportingThe U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion is an attempt to divert attention from surging deaths in the U.S. and other Western countries, Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of China’s state-run Global Times, said on his account on Chinese social media platform Weibo.There was no way for serious data faking to occur in today’s China, especially for an incident that has drawn such widespread attention, Hu said. He said China managed to curtail the death toll in Hubei, the province where the virus first emerged late last year, by sending medical workers and equipment there from other parts of the country.“To fake the casualty data, which departments will be deployed? Who will implement the plan?,” Hu said. “It will involve many different departments in many places to get the total numbers. If one of them is faking once, they have to fake it all the time. The risk of screwing up could be very high.”China isn’t the only country with suspect public reporting. Western officials have pointed to Iran, Russia, Indonesia and especially North Korea, which has not reported a single case of the disease, as probable under-counts. Others including Saudi Arabia and Egypt may also be playing down their numbers.U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo has publicly urged China and other nations to be transparent about their outbreaks. He has repeatedly accused China of covering up the extent of the problem and being slow to share information, especially in the weeks after the virus first emerged, and blocking offers of help from American experts.“This data set matters,” he said at a news conference in Washington on Tuesday. The development of medical therapies and public-health measures to combat the virus “so that we can save lives depends on the ability to have confidence and information about what has actually transpired,” he said.“I would urge every nation: Do your best to collect the data. Do your best to share that information,” he said. “We’re doing that.”(Updates with Trump comments from fifth paragraph)For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
The royal grandfather has a sweet tribute to Prince George on display at his Birkhall home