NEW DELHI • A leading Indian industry body has urged the authorities to take the "strongest national steps" and to curtail economic activity to save lives as the country battles surging coronavirus cases that have overwhelmed the healthcare system.
Billionaire Uday Kotak said a "maximal response measure at the highest level is called for to cut the transmission links", as building healthcare infrastructure will take time. Mr Kotak, chief executive of Kotak Mahindra Bank, India's third-largest lender by market value, was speaking on Sunday on behalf of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), where he is the president.
"At this critical juncture when the toll of lives is rising, CII urges the strongest national steps, including curtailing economic activity, to reduce suffering," Mr Kotak said in a statement.
He also suggested that the government tap retired doctors and nurses and trainees who are awaiting exam results to fight Covid-19.
Hospitals have filled to capacity, medical oxygen supplies have run short and morgues and crematoriums have been swamped as India deals with the surge in cases: more than 300,000 daily cases for more than 10 days straight.
"Our maxim should be 'no one is safe, unless everyone is safe'," Mr Kotak said.
The advice is a shift for the CII, whose members had last month indicated through a survey that they were against lockdowns. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who last year imposed a strict lockdown on short notice, has also asked states to avoid shutting businesses this time around.
Since his speech to the nation, though, India's daily official death toll has increased by more than 1,000 and millions more have been sickened.
At least 11 states and union territories have imposed some form of restrictions.
The Indian Express newspaper reported on Sunday that the country's Covid-19 task force has advised the federal government to impose a national lockdown.
The eastern state of Odisha and northern industrial state of Haryana became the latest to announce new lockdowns on Sunday, joining Delhi, Maharashtra, Karnataka and West Bengal.
Other states, including Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, Assam, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan have either imposed night curfews or weekend lockdowns.
Mr Modi said last month that all efforts should be made to avoid a lockdown. He imposed strict curbs on movement and social and economic activity last year in the early months of the pandemic and economic output fell a record 24 per cent in the April to June period last year compared with the same period a year earlier.
The current devastating second wave has also led to a shortfall in medical staff. Mr Kotak also said healthcare workers may not be able to tackle the influx of patients, given the escalating caseloads, and they need reinforcing.
International aid has been pouring in.
Countries including the United States have shipped in critical oxygen equipment, therapeutics and raw materials for vaccine production. On Sunday, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said his country would send more ventilators "very shortly".
Mr Modi's government has been criticised for not taking steps earlier to curb the spread and for letting millions of largely unmasked people attend religious festivals and crowded political rallies in five states during the last two months.
Reuters reported last Saturday that a forum of scientific advisers set up by the government warned Indian officials in early March of a new and more contagious variant of the coronavirus taking hold in the country.