Governance Now Visionary Talks Series

Covid-19: What needs to be done

Focus on the present, not past or future; prioritiese help to those who need it the most

Chenab | May 11, 2020


#Covid-19   #Coronavirus   #healthcare   #medicine   #economy  
A family lighting lamps last month as a collective gesture of India`s fight against Covid-19.
A family lighting lamps last month as a collective gesture of India`s fight against Covid-19.

There are two sides to the coin of the Covid-19 disaster. The heads is the heads; i.e., lives of the people. The tail side is the economic damage sustained by almost every sector. In other words, the effective response to this problem has to take into consideration not only the direct and plainly visible impact of the crisis, that is, the threat to lives of particularly older persons with underlying conditions or weak immunity, but also handling the weakened economy with the gentle care and support that it demands.

Right now, for simplicity, we can divide the course of the Covid-19 pandemic into four time frames: the past, the present, the near future and the future. The origins of this disease, the cause of its spread, the Tablighi Jamaat, the steps taken to mitigate its impact, etc. can be attributed to the past. The study and scrutiny of the past events should be solely assigned to the scientists and doctors for important research, vaccine development etc. The media should, after a certain time, move on and deviate from reporting the events of the far past. Even now when you flip news channels you may find some doctor explaining how the virus spreads through “droplets” of the infected person. The unconstructive blame-game too must be left for now and should be played later in the future.

The prime focus of all of us right now must be to target the root of this problem, that is, the virus itself. This comes under the territory of the present. The governments of all the states must focus on the present. Acknowledging the seriousness of the situation, they must test randomly in addition to the symptomatic people for the virus. It is the only “aggressive” weapon we have, social distancing is a preventive and defensive measure. “Test and isolate (if positive)” is the only proven strategy as of now. The country has to beef up its testing kit numbers and random testing has to done truthfully. During the lockdown, the state governments must enhance their healthcare system and be prepared for a surge in cases, as the real problem in India has only begun.

For the welfare of the people in this unprecedented lockdown, we can divide them into three simple classes based on their income: The rich, the middle class and the poor. Notice that no casteism, communalism or any such ism has a role in this disaster. The rich must be left for now. This class is more prone to boredom than dying of hunger. This includes the actors who post their workout videos on social media, the personalities who complain that their diet is ruined because of the lockdown and those who binge watch whole series on Netflix. The problems faced by rich businessmen can be dealt in the future.

The middle class, the largest in India by population, must have access to basic food and water supply. In this sense, the middle class includes all those people who have a roof above their head and a fridge in their kitchen. The jobs lost by members of this class can also be attended to in the future.

The toughest challenge that the Indian government is facing is to provide food and shelter to the poor. The members of this class are the migrant workers, the homeless and the poor farmers each needing highly specific policies to ensure their survival. This is the class that is facing problems in the present and will face problems in the near future. The initiative taken by many governments to make hotels and public halls shelter homes for the homeless is a great first step. But this is not enough. Taking into account the scale of poverty in India, a neat system for distributing food to the poor is still to be developed. Most of the government’s manpower should be employed in the development of this system. The gates of the granaries of the FCI also must be opened for the needy.

The farmers are also suffering as their crops are rotting in the sun. They do not have the means to take them to the market. The government also needs to organize a transportation system in regard to this.

To summarize, what the government needs to do in the present is:

1.) Test aggressively and isolate people(if +ve),
2.) Undertake contact tracing of the positive patients and repeat the cycle of testing,
3.) Take care of the underprivileged,
4.) Enforce social distancing measures.

Throughout the process, the government would need to maintain the delicate dynamic balance between lives and livelihoods, i.e., mitigate economic damage and save lives from the coronavirus.

This seems simple but those who have the task of managing the entire nation have another story to tell. Nevertheless, we can say that challenging times demand challenging tasks.

The sooner this happens, the faster we will move into the post-Covid future.

Assuming that the government tackles the first wave of this virus, it would have to attend to the collapsing economy which has grounded to a halt after the lockdown. Even after the outbreak ends, people would be scared to go to crowded places. This means that industries like aviation, hotel, restaurant and tourism would still be in the bog. Street vendors and other small businesses will also certainly incur a loss.

The IMF has predicted India’s GDP growth to be at a measly 1.9% post covid-19. This means there is going to be mass unemployment, the signs of which can be seen already, and a huge recession greater than anything seen by humanity after the Great Depression. The economy would not be revived without the support of the government. An economic package not less than 10% of the annual GDP must be passed according to the experts. Money also has to be injected in the crippled industries separately as relief. The Trump administration has decided to give $25 billion in relief to help the aviation industry. Similar relief packages must be given to the Indian industries.

Direct transfer to the accounts of the poor would also be a favourable step. Reviving the economy is going to be ostensibly tougher than containing the outbreak itself. It may take many quarters to bring the GDP growth back to the pre-Covid levels. But the full-fledged struggle for the revival is still far away thanks to the possibility of a second or third wave of the virus. Unfortunately, millions are going to suffer due to this.

In conclusion, a commercially available cheap vaccine is crucial to fully end this war against corona. Till then humanity would continue to wander in uncharted waters of the pandemic. Every effort to prevent the spread would be ruined unless we develop herd immunity or develop a vaccine. The former would involve loss of indefinite lives. The path out depends on the choices we make now.
 

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