In World’s Most Vulnerable Countries, the Pandemic Rivals the 2008 Crisis

Mahender, 60, who shines shoes, slept by the roadside, his head propped on the cloth bag that holds the tools of his trade. Before the coronavirus, he earned about 400 rupees per day (about $5). Now, he makes 100 rupees.

Shagun, a 45-year-old mother of five, sat on the sidewalk slicing bananas, watermelon and papayas into portions she sells to auto rickshaw drivers. With her sales down by half, she has been serving her family only rice and the cheapest lentils, while adding water to the milk she gives her children.

“My husband is jobless,” she said. “I have no savings. God forbid we are asked to move out of the footpath, we will be surviving on only one meal per day.”

Even before the outbreak, India was gripped by an economic slowdown. The government, led by Narendra Modi, had failed to generate promised jobs, while drawing accusations that it doctored the official books to mask the extent of unemployment.

Faced with laments about a disappointing economy, Mr. Modi has stoked Hindu nationalism. Police have sided with Hindu mobs in bloody conflicts with minority Muslims. None of this will be eased by a public health catastrophe twinned with mass unemployment.

“You would have to have some blind faith to argue that India isn’t in a massive slowdown,” said Swati Dhingra, an economist at the London School of Economics. “Now, you bring in another major force, and one that will asymmetrically hit poorer people. This could turn into something really quite bad.”

Argentina was in peril before the pandemic. Its currency, the peso, lost more than two-thirds of its value in 2018 and 2019, as inflation exceeded 50 percent. Its economy contracted by 2 percent last year, the continuation of a long-running slide in national fortunes. Government debt approached 90 percent of annual economic output, a flashing signal of distress.

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