What does South Indian think of Modi

1.3 billion Indians in Corona mode

"I'm leaving India with a heavy heart," says Sophie Prana as she waits for an AUA emergency flight at Delhi airport. The display boards at India's largest airport are black, the kiosk shutters are pulled down, the aisles are empty. Only the military is still here, she tells STANDARD on the phone. The machine, organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, will come from Colombo, where it has already collected some Austrians. From Delhi it goes straight to Vienna. When Prana thinks about what could happen in India in a few weeks, she has horror images in her head.

For a long time, people in India did not take the corona virus seriously, says the Austrian, who appears in public with a pseudonym. She lives in India over the winter months. The summer heat was the natural enemy of the coronavirus, it was thought. "Until Sunday it was as if that didn't affect India at all." Officially, 649 cases of infection were counted in India by Thursday, 13 people have succumbed to the disease so far - but experts assume a higher number of unreported cases. 1.3 billion people live in the country, and 24,254 of them were tested. Data suggests that the virus was brought in by Western tourists. After a first wave in Delhi, the virus is now also spreading in villages. "If this becomes acute now, it will crack," says Prana. "And nobody is prepared for it."

There may be top medical professionals and excellent hospitals in India, but only a small elite can afford them. The public health system is notoriously overburdened: there are only 0.5 hospital beds for every 1,000 people. In Italy it is 3.2, in China 4.3.

Prana had actually prepared to walk to the airport on Thursday. Because a three-week complete shutdown has been in effect in India since Tuesday night. Public transport, trains and planes are at a standstill, hotels are largely closed. Taxis and rickshaws are not allowed to drive. At short notice, Prana found a driver who took the risk "because he wanted to help," said the Austrian. At the police barriers in the city, she had to show her pass from the Austrian embassy.

In the end, she gave the helper her remaining money, around 80 euros. Because the man doesn't know how to support his family for the next few weeks. Like him, many people in India are not part of a social system, but earn their living as day laborers. The majority simply cannot afford to sit at home and wait. "We are afraid that we will die from hunger rather than from Corona," said one victim recently to the BBC.

Social distancing in the megacities

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the lockdown on Tuesday, he put the country to the test. People should "distance themselves socially" - in a country that has the most densely populated cities in the world. Above all, the situation in Asia's largest slums is hard to keep track of. The government has announced that it will now deliver food and water to the slums to prevent unrest. And yet, experts largely agree that only drastic action can prevent the worst. "If you don't hold out these 21 days, this country and your families will be thrown back 21 years," Modi agreed the subcontinent for the greatest lockdown in human history.

However, there was criticism of the information policy. On Sunday there was only talk of one day, it turned into three. And finally three weeks - announced just four hours in advance. At first it was communicated that everything would be open again soon, so that one would not have to take precautions. "For fear of panic breaking out," says Prana. She didn't want to leave the country until the end. On her trip from South India to Delhi there were neither fever measurements nor protective masks. Suddenly there was a political turnaround.

Violence by "bamboo massage"

Now many people are left without food. Videos are circulating on the Internet showing how the police are trying to implement the lockdown by drastic means. People who did not adhere to it had to hold posters in Meerut that read "I am a friend of Corona". In the state of Telangana, the police are even authorized to shoot violations.

Prana had been trying to organize a taxi driver since Sunday. But everyone just replied with videos of police officers walking the streets with bamboo sticks. Their measures are called "Bamboo massage". The virus has also brought an abrupt end to the anti-government protests that have been going on in Delhi for three months. On Tuesday, police bulldozed sit-ins that have long been a thorn in the side of the government.

For the Modi government, Corona thus represents the greatest challenge in his term in office. He would like to support an already ailing economy with almost 20 billion euros. Positive signs come from the southern Indian state of Kerala. There the communist government seems to have a better grip on the spread. And WHO chief Mike Ryan recently recalled how India managed to fight polio in 2014 "by breaking it down to village level. The country has traced the virus from district to district to district. And India won. " (Anna Sawerthal, March 27, 2020)