Dr. S.D. Gupta, a public health expert and the chairman of the Indian Institute of Health Management Research, said India’s social structure, in which several generations of a family often live together, complicated social distancing guidelines and put the older people who suffer substantially higher mortality rates at risk.
Still, he said India’s extraordinary ability to mobilize in times of uncertainty — from blunting the force of cyclones to eradicating smallpox — suggested that the country could get ahead of the coronavirus if strict measures were kept in place and the populace obeyed them.
So far, Dr. Gupta said, many have.
“This country has great resilience and people come together in an emergency,” he said. “We can beat this.”
In eastern Delhi, people are not so sure. The area is the single most densely populated district in all of India, with 36,155 people per square kilometer.
On Tuesday, people had been bracing for more restrictions. And in a place full of daily laborers and casual workers, it was the restrictions, more than the virus, that scared them.
“All I’m thinking about right now is how to put food in my children’s stomachs,’’ said Majid Khan, a house painter. He had not worked in days, he had 3,000 rupees (less than $50) in his pocket and zero in his bank account, and his rent was overdue.
“These are my problems,” he said.
Reporting was contributed by Shalini Venugopal, Hari Kumar and Suhasini Raj from New Delhi, and Vindu Goel from Mumbai.