Shruti Rajagopalan and I have written a policy brief on pandemic policy in developing countries with specific recommendations for India. The Indian context requires a different approach. Even washing hands, for example, is not easily accomplished when hundreds of millions of people do not have access to piped water or soap. India needs to control the COVID-19 pandemic better than other nations because the consequences of losing control are more severe given India’s relatively low healthcare resources, limited state capacity, and large population of poor people, many of whom are already burdened with other health issues. We make 10 recommendations:
1: Any test kit approved in China, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, the United States, or Western Europe should be immediately approved in India.
2: The Indian government should announce a commitment to pay any private Indian lab running coronavirus tests at least the current cost of tests run at government labs.
3: All import tariffs and quotas on medical equipment related to the COVID-19 crisis should be immediately lifted and nullified.
4: Use mobile phones to survey, inform, and prescreen for symptoms. Direct any individual with symptoms and his or her family to a testing center, or direct mobile testing to them.
5: Keep mobile phone accounts alive even if the phone bills are not paid, and provide a subsidy for pay-as-you-go account holders who cannot afford to pay for mobile services.
6: Requisition government schools and buildings and rent private hotel rooms, repurposing them as quarantine facilities.
7: Rapidly scale up the production and distribution of masks and encourage everyone to wear masks.
8: Truck in water and soap for hand washing and use existing distribution networks to provide hand sanitizers.
9: Accept voter identification cards and AADHAAR cards for in-kind transfers at ration shops.
10: Announce a direct cash transfer of a minimum of 3000 rupees per month (equivalent to the poverty line of $1.25 a day or $38 a month) to be distributed through Jan Dhan accounts or mobile phone applications such as Paytm.
See the whole thing for more on the rationales.
Addendum: As we went to press we heard that India will lift tariffs on medical equipment. My co-author lobbied hard for this.