NEW DELHI (AP) – State authorities in India began distributing food to the poorest and suddenly unemployed, as the country began a national quarantine and both the public and private sectors were blaming the impact of the pandemic measures.
The Indian Ministry of Finance announced a stimulus package of 1.7 trillion rupees ($ 22 billion) that will include monthly deliveries of rations of grain and lentils to 800 million people, around 60% of people in the second most populous country in the world.
Meanwhile, one state police gave rations of rice to slum dwellers while the government of another state deposited money into the bank accounts of workers who had just lost their jobs. Humanitarian groups, meanwhile, were working to significantly expand the number of meals they could offer.
In most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that disappear in two to three weeks. In some people, especially the elderly and people with medical problems, it can cause more serious illnesses such as pneumonia and even death.
The unprecedented order to keep the 1.3 billion people in the country at home except for essential exits to places such as supermarkets or pharmacies was intended to prevent cases of the virus from going beyond the 553 registered and exceeding a health system already at the limit of its possibilities.
However, the measures, which came into effect on Wednesday – the world’s largest quarantine – ran the risk of aggravating the hardships of the quarter of the population that already lives below the poverty line and 1.8 million homeless people.
Rickshaw drivers, itinerant food vendors, cleaners, day laborers and other non-contract workers are the foundation of the Indian economy and account for around 85% of the country’s employment, according to official data. Many of them buy food with the money they earn a day and have no savings to draw on.
Countless people are now out of work, and many families have trouble eating.
“Our main concern is food, not the virus,” said Suresh Kumar, 60, who drives a rickshaw in New Delhi. His family of six depends on his daily income of just Rs 300 ($ 4), he said.
“I don’t know how I’ll manage,” he said.
Associated Press journalists Biswajeet Banerjee in Lucknow, Dar Yasin in Srinagar, Aijaz Rahi in Bangalore and Wasbir Hussain in Gauhati contributed to this report.