Many lives were changed by India's lockdown a year ago

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Health worker Kavita Sherawat, 30, wears a face mask as she prepares to take samples to test for COVID-19 in New Delhi, India, Thursday, March 18, 2021. Despite dutifully wearing masks and always washing her hands, Sherawat got infected, as did her husband, parents and in-laws. While doctors and nurses were cheered as heroes during the lockdown, people avoided her, fearing infection. She tested thousands of sick and gasping people as they arrived at hospitals, not knowing if the gear she wore was adequately protecting her. That fear changes you as a person. You start valuing your life more, she said. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

NEW DELHI – The government order on the night of March 24, 2020, was abrupt but clear: In four hours, India and its 1.4 billion people would be locked down entirely because of the coronavirus.

As the clock struck midnight, the world's second-most populous country came to a screeching halt, isolating everyone in their homes.

In the days that followed, millions lost their jobs, devastating the economy. The already-struggling health care system was strained even further. Social inequalities came to the fore, pushing millions more into poverty.

India's lockdown, among the strictest anywhere, lasted for 68 days, and some form of it remained in force for months before it eventually was lifted. Since the pandemic began, India has had 11.6 million cases and more than 160,000 people have died.

A year after the lockdown, its ripples are still visible. Some people shrugged it off and managed to get back to normal. For many others, though, their lives were changed greatly.

THE ACTOR

First, Neelesh Deepak watched his food dwindle. Then the actor couldn’t pay the rent on his New Delhi apartment. Out of money, he returned to his parents' home in Madhubani, a village in eastern Bihar state.

There, he tried to cope with his isolation from work, colleagues and friends. When he returned to the Indian capital in October, things had changed for the worse. Most theaters were closed, and those that tried to stage plays struggled to lure the public back. Shows were suspended indefinitely and thousands of coworkers had no jobs.