ET Global Business Summit: India must contain Covid-19, says Jeffrey D Sachs


NEW DELHI: India should redouble its efforts to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, which can otherwise stymie any efforts to foster an economic recovery, American economist Jeffrey D. Sachs said.

Speaking at the ET Global Business Summit via videoconference, Sachs said India should increase non-pharmaceutical interventions — wearing face masks, physical distancing, prevention of large gatherings, extensive testing and contact tracing — along with public health infrastructure spending, failing which the country could face the “dire consequences” of an explosion in the number of Covid-19 cases.

“India is opening up and easing restrictions further in the interest of the economy, but without the control of the pandemic, I personally doubt that this can be successful,” he said.

“I greatly fear that if this gets out of control in India, the consequences will be very, very dire, even if it looks like the death rates are not that high. The explosion in the number of cases, multiplied by the death rates that are observed, would be a terrible outcome and a very dangerous one,” the economic professor and public policy analyst said.

Sachs said since the public health system was not aggressive and effective, the epidemic would remain out of control and the economic recovery would not take place, “even if that is the priority of the government”.

“People are getting sick, people are not spending, businesses are not investing, supply chains are disrupted and the result is that there is no economic recovery,” he said, while pointing to the economic rebound of China, which was able to control the pandemic.

He said systematic public health interventions were not followed after the lockdown — for instance, contact tracing was suspended during the summer months.

India has more than 5.6 million cases with over 100,000 new cases being reported every day. Over 90,000 deaths have been reported so far.

“India (should) use this warning sign as an occasion to redouble the efforts on the non-pharmaceutical interventions, and to be far more systematic,” he said.

Sachs also said India should aim to decarbonise by 2050, in order to prevent the impact of climate change to which the country was “most vulnerable”.

“By doing so, India would build its own industrial capacities for the clean, green recovery ahead,” he said. China will move to carbon neutrality by 2060, while the European Union will do that by 2050, as per current plans.

Sachs cautioned that China’s economic rebound and the deepening Covid crisis in the US and India were adding to geopolitical crisis and threats, with India facing border skirmishes with China and aligning with the US in barring Chinese digital apps. He added that there was a growing geopolitical threat that the US was trying to “create a cold war with China and enlisting, very openly, India in that Cold War,” which was felt in the UN General Assembly on Wednesday.

“This idea of creating confrontation will only raise the danger in the world, hinder economic recovery and lose the advantages of cooperation,” Sachs said, criticising US President Donald Trump for “misleading and misguiding India”.

India had a huge stake in closer cooperation with China and East Asian countries due to importance in trade and technology, he added, urging the country to not side with the “misguided and ultra-nationalistic policies of Trump”.

He accused the US President of politicising wearing face masks, for keeping the economy open, neglecting the role of testing and tracing, and demeaning scientists in the US government.

“Our President is completely incompetent and uncaring. A really awful, terrible leader, I’m afraid, who has been totally unable and uninterested to put in place effective measures,” he said.

“In my opinion, he’s the worst president in American history,” Sachs added.


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