NEW DELHI: The world’s largest democracy went under the world’s biggest lockdown Wednesday, as India’s 1.3 billion people stayed home in a bid to stop the march of the coronavirus pandemic. As infections and deaths rose in the U.S. and Europe, U.S. lawmakers agreed on a massive $2 trillion domestic aid package to help those economically devastated by the outbreak.
India’s unprecedented move aimed to keep the virus from spreading and overwhelming its fragile health care system, as it has done in parts of Europe and threatens to do in U.S. hotspots like New York. Everything but essential services like supermarkets were shuttered in India. Normally bustling railway stations in New Delhi were deserted and streets that just hours before were jammed with honking cars were eerily silent.
“Delhi looks like a ghost town,” said Nishank Gupta, a lawyer. “I have never seen the city so quiet before.”
India, where testing has been limited, has only about 450 cases, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi warned that if he didn’t act now it could set the country back decades.
In Washington, top White House aide Eric Ueland announced the economic agreement in a Capitol hallway shortly after midnight after days of haggling.
Relief that U.S. politicians have reached a deal on economic support pushed world stock markets up on Wednesday. Indexes in Europe and Asia rose a day after the Dow Jones Industrial Average had its best day since 1933.
One of the last issues to be decided concerned $500 billion for guaranteed, subsidized loans to larger industries, including a fight over how generous to be with airlines that have been rocked by a near-shutdown of travel. Hospitals would get significant help as well.
With Americans’ lives and livelihoods hanging in the balance, President Donald Trump said he “would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter.” But that statement sharply contradicted health officials’ calls for stricter restrictions on public interactions. Scientists and other politicians in the U.S. have warned that the worst is yet to come.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said his state’s infections are doubling every three days, threatening to swamp the city’s intensive care units much quicker than experts had expected. The state has 26,000 infections and more than 200 deaths.
“One of the forecasters said to me: ‘We were looking at a freight train coming across the country,'” the governor said. “We’re now looking at a bullet train.”
With infections in the U.S. exceeding 55,000 and deaths over 800, health experts say failing to maintain social distancing will balloon infections to the point that the nation’s fragmented health care system would be overwhelmed and many more people would die.
More than 425,000 people worldwide have been infected by the virus and almost 19,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University. Overall, more than 109,000 have recovered.