How to maintain a long lock: analysis
Right now, we’ve all seen heartbreaking images of migrants in Delhi rushing to board buses leaving the city. If even a small number of them were infected with the coronavirus and infected others in crowded transport services or communities they returned to, the positive impact of any blockage in slowing down the spread of the virus could have been subverted.
But let us not vilify the poorest and most vulnerable in our society, who were doing everything possible to survive. In fact, a blockade was needed to stop the spread of the coronavirus, to prevent our squeaking health system from being overwhelmed. The problem does not lie in the seriousness with which the government has acted to combat the crisis, but in the advice it is being given.
Popular perception of how to fight the virus comes from a set of epidemiological models, often based on erratic data and strong assumptions, that predict doomsday scenarios. This has led, for example, to Johns Hopkins University to clarify that a study widely disseminated by some of its researchers that predicted until 240 million infected Indians was not his opinion. Even if these studies were not credible, the damage was done in terms of political pressure, as the focus shifted to aggressive “social distancing” measures.
The mathematics of this idea is simple and attractive. If people in a home have little or no contact with those outside, then the virus has little chance of spreading. But what is lost in this simplistic idea, and the excruciatingly poor use of data, is the “sustainability” of any measure of social distancing or blocking.
We have to ask ourselves whether the way we have shut ourselves up in India (which can continue beyond three weeks, although the government has said there are no plans to do so) is capable of long-term implementation without serious suffering or without – accordance.
In closing, we are asking people to sacrifice for the greater good. In fact, Prime Minister Narendra Modi framed the blockade precisely in these terms in his national speech. In the study of political economy, we refer to this as a type of “collective action problem.”
In this type of collective action problem, each person must pay a certain cost (restricting essential elements, without external interaction) so that society as a whole can benefit in the future. While vigilance and social embarrassment keep some people inside, ultimately, the success of a blockade is based on people’s willingness to comply with the restrictions. This provision is a function of the extent to which people have the luxury of having a long-term view of well-being and the magnitude of costs that are imposed on people today.
This is where things went wrong. The blockade was imposed unsustainably on the poorest populations in India.
First, a significant amount of social science research shows that the poor, who live daily, often do not have the luxury of worrying about the future. Recent work by Anandi Mani and her co-authors provides compelling evidence that the poor in India are so consumed with daily survival that they rarely have the psychological space to think about the future.
Second, the costs imposed on the poor, with no income and benefits and limited goods in the markets, were severe. This was compounded by the fact that the type of risk mitigation systems of depending on family and friends, or promising to pay later, that had worked during demonetization for the poor, was no longer feasible (especially for migrants). ).
There is still time to adjust and calibrate the policy. But to do so, we must stop seeing the economic costs and the blockade to prevent diseases as compensation. If certain economic conditions are not met at the individual level, a longer block is unsustainable.
With this in mind, here are some suggestions. First, let’s stop talking about mosaic data or what China and the United States did or did not do; India needs a solution that fits its political economy context. As a much poorer country, we must provide significant material support and livelihood to the most vulnerable people, not only because it is ethical, but because failure to do so risks causing more unintended negative consequences and compromising the blockade.
Second, we must understand which activities are most likely to exacerbate the spread. A common feature in pandemics is the role of “super-broadcasters” such as “patient 31” in South Korea who transmit the disease to large numbers of people in very public places. Many of us have heard that a person infected with the coronavirus will infect one or three more on average, but this hides significant variations. Most will infect few or no, but super spreaders have a disproportionate “multiplier effect” as those infected by one super spreader will then infect others. This is why as we seek to regularize supply chains and perhaps reduce restrictions in the future, it is necessary to avoid large crowds such as those seen in Delhi and Mumbai at all costs in the coming months.
Finally, we need to standardize relief efforts across India as much as possible. State-specific and charitable responses are highly uneven, creating incentives for the most vulnerable populations to move when insufficient benefits are provided. Failure to provide equal relief to the interior of India risks triggering another mass movement as we have seen in Delhi.
Looking around the world, it is becoming clear that some blocking measures will be required for months in the future to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. We must begin to develop a policy, taking our political economy seriously, to maintain such a long closure.
Neelanjan Sircar is an assistant professor at Ashoka University and a visiting member of the Policy Research Center
The opinions expressed are personal.