NEW DELHI (AP) — With Chinese industries ramping up production, competing Indian businesses are urging Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to loosen India’s 5-week-old coronavirus lockdown when it comes up for review on Sunday.
Gurcharan Das, former head of Procter & Gamble in India, said Wednesday that key industries such as pharmaceuticals, information technology and automobiles, which employ millions of people, can resume manufacturing at half or even one-third of their capacities in areas unaffected by the coronavirus. He said the manufacturers should ensure that safeguards are in place for their workers, including safe distancing and the wearing of masks.
If India is unable to bring its economy back on the track, it could lose 30-40 million jobs by the end of this year, leading to a devastating economic crisis, said Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, executive chairwoman of Biocon, a biopharmaceutical company.
Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said 300 of India’s 720 districts are unaffected by the coronavirus. Another 300 have had very few cases, while 120 have hotspots. New Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Indore and Ahmedabad are among the main troubled areas. India has so far confirmed more than 30,000 cases and 1,007 deaths.
India earlier this month changed rules to block Chinese foreign direct investment into the country through automatic routes. Chinese goods such as cars, cellphones, toys and furniture flood Indian markets. India also is getting ventilators, testing kits and other medical equipment from China.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed a three-week lockdown on March 25 and later extended it until May 3, when he is scheduled to address the nation on its future.
In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:
— INDIA SHELVES HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE PLANS: Public health officials in India have shelved plans to administer the untested anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine, or HCQ, to thousands in Mumbai’s crowded slums as a way of preventing infections in healthy people. Health officials in Mumbai said the plan to conduct tests was still in the cards but had not yet been approved by the Indian government. For now, they will follow federal guidelines that say the drug can only be used for high-risk groups including health care workers taking care of COVID-19 patients, contacts of confirmed patients and those in quarantine centers. Experts say there is little evidence to show that HCQ can help treat COVID-19 infections. Thwe drug had been widely touted by President Donald Trump.
— BANGKOK SET TO EASE RESTRICTIONS: Officials in Thailand’s capital say they’re preparing to ease restrictions that were imposed to fight the coronavirus. The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration said Wednesday that plans call for the reopening of restaurants, markets, exercise venues, parks, hairdressers and barbers, clinics and nursing homes, animal hospitals and pet salons, and golf courses and driving ranges. Restaurants will have to keep their seats at least 1.5 meters (5 feet) apart and practice a wide range of sanitary measures. Thailand has confirmed 2,947 cases, including 54 deaths.
— CONCERNS OVER MALAYSIA LOCKDOWN PENALTIES: Malaysian lawyers and an international rights group have voiced concern over what they say is excessive sentencing of violators of the country’s coronavirus lockdown. Malaysia, which has confirmed 5,851 cases and 100 deaths from COVID-19, has arrested more than 21,000 people since a partial lockdown began March 8. Violators face a fine or a jail term of up to six months. The Bar Council, which represents some 15,000 lawyers, urged courts to temper justice with compassion because the offenses don’t involve violent crime. Human Rights Watch said Malaysia should stop jailing violators because it’s counterproductive to reducing the virus spread.
— HOLIDAY WORRIES IN SOUTH KOREA: South Korean officials have issued public pleas for vigilance to maintain hard-won gains against the coronavirus as the nation enters its longest holiday since infections surged in February. Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip said Wednesday that 180,000 people are expected to visit the resort island of Jeju during a six-day break from Thursday to Tuesday, despite the island government pleading travelers not to come. Kim urged travelers to wear masks, not to share food and stay at home if they have fever or respiratory symptoms. South Korea’ has confirmed 10,761 cases, including 246 deaths.
— TOKYO SITUATION STILL SERIOUS: Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike on Wednesday called for an extension of Japan’s nationwide “state of emergency,” which requests people to stay home and social distance. She noted that reported daily cases of COVID-19 in Tokyo have topped 100 people recently. The state of emergency lasts through May 6, which marks the end of the Golden Week holidays that began this week. The government has asked people not to travel during the holidays. There is no lockdown in Japan, and some businesses and restaurants remain open.
— CHINA CONGRESS SET: China has decided to hold the annual meeting of its ceremonial parliament late next month after postponing it for weeks because of the coronavirus outbreak. The official Xinhua News Agency said Wednesday that the National People’s Congress would open in Beijing on May 22, according to a decision made by its standing committee, which handles most legislative affairs outside the annual two-week session of the full body. The convening of the full session, which would encompass about 3,000 members, indicates China’s growing confidence that it has largely overcame the pandemic that was first detected in the country late last year.
— AUSTRALIAN MINING MAGNATE URGES INQUIRY DELAY: An Australian mining magnate and partner in the government’s pandemic response says a global inquiry into the coronavirus should be delayed until after the U.S. presidential election. Andrew Forrest, who became a billionaire exporting iron ore to China as founder of Fortescue Metals Group, said such an inquiry made “common sense,” but should be held after the November election so “there’s not going to be a political dog in this fight.” Australia’s calls for an independent inquiry are damaging bilateral relations with China, which accused Australia of parroting the United States.