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India’s Covid-19 catastrophe could make global shortages even worse

A terrifying and record-breaking wave of Covid-19 in India threatens to stall the country’s economic recovery and send shockwaves through several important global industries.

Asia’s third largest economy has been struggling for weeks to control the devastating surge. Hundreds of thousands of new cases are reported every day, and economists are rethinking their forecasts for double-digit growth this year — a troubling sign for a country that plunged into recession last year for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century after the government imposed a nationwide lockdown. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has so far resisted calls to impose another total lockdown on the country, even as many regions have announced their own heavy restrictions. But several global industries that rely on India are looking on anxiously. Should the crisis deepen, everything from clothing and pharmaceuticals to financial services and global shipping could feel the pain.

About 80% of world goods trade by volume is carried on ships, according to the United Nations World Conference on Trade and Development, and India provides many of their crews. More than 200,000 of an estimated 1.7 million seafarers globally are from India, according to Guy Platten, the Secretary General at the International Chamber of Shipping. Many of them have officer ranks and roles requiring important skills, he added. “We hope to goodness” this situation can be resolved, Platten told CNN Business. Otherwise it could lead to big “shortage of seafarers,” which would “disrupt the global supply chain,” he added. As many countries have banned flights from India, it is already impossible to move Indian workers to ports around the world, and swap crews.

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