Total closure or deaths: the false dichotomy – analysis
It is essential that we understand that India’s conditions are unique. We will be required to take different measures than other large countries that are pursuing a total closure strategy, “former Congress President Rahul Gandhi wrote in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. After being the first In warning the nation of the coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19), Gandhi pledged his full support to the prime minister in fighting him and called for a more “nuanced” strategy to counter the virus, while acknowledging the different realities of the India How unique is India and why a total block is not an optimal strategy?
First, comparing data on Covid-19 infections, hospitalizations, deaths, and deaths in different countries is absurd and misleading. Each nation has different testing strategies, demographics, and data integrity. Claiming that the United States (USA) has more Covid-19 cases than India, or that Italy has a higher death rate than Germany is like comparing weapons, germs, and steel. Such cross-country analyzes have only added noise to this serious crisis.
Many developed nations such as the United States, the United Kingdom (United Kingdom), France and Italy have adopted a strategy of social distancing through blockade to prevent the rapid spread of the virus. India also jumped on the bandwagon, but with an extreme and absolute three-week national blockade and is likely to extend it further.
A blockade affects salaried workers who must go out to work every day to feed themselves and their families. Less than a fifth of the workforce in the United States, Italy, and the United Kingdom are daily salaried workers. But in India, 90% of all workers are. So the scale of the impact of a total blockade in India is exponentially greater than in other nations.
The very idea of social distancing is based on the premise that the virus can be contained in small homes of two to four people. More than 90% of all households in developed countries have fewer than four members. But, more than three quarters of all households in India have more than five members. In almost all poor households, there are more than six members, again unique to India. Social distancing through blocking has been portrayed as Sophie’s choice, where there is a trade-off between a massive adverse impact on the economy and halting the spread of the virus. It is a “dollars versus lives” puzzle in Western nations and in that, the “lives” case must always win.
However, in India, it is not “rupees versus lives” but a “lives versus lives” dichotomy. There are already reports of many deaths due to famine and hardships for migrant populations caused by the sudden and absolute closure. Millions of migrant workers have been stranded amid heartbreaking images of them being forced to jump, squat and spray themselves with chemicals.
Deaths from starvation, homelessness and isolation are imminent. The intangible social costs of exclusion and humiliation by local communities can take many more lives. None of these deaths will be measured and documented on charts, as ardently as those caused by Covid-19. Media reports indicate that deaths from the blockade are already similar in count to deaths from the coronavirus. Shamefully, this is also unique to India. Given the social structure of India, the effectiveness of an extreme blockade will also be much less here than in developed nations. Therefore, India may not experience the full benefits of an extreme blockade, but it will be affected by the enormous human and economic costs that come with it.
It is often observed that the government must provide a comprehensive food, housing, and income safety net, and therefore ensure that the closure is seamless. Yes, the government has sadly fallen short and must do more to protect the poor and vulnerable during these tumultuous times. But it is also recognized that India has a weak state capacity for the provision of social assistance. So it is naive to believe that a weak state can drastically transform from an inefficient monster to an efficient angel overnight, and ensure that cash, food, and shelter are delivered to the last affected Indian.
India’s large number of daily wage laborers, high population density in households, a notoriously inefficient architecture of government welfare, and a massive humanitarian crisis due to the current extreme blockade is a fact.
It is also a fact that the Covid-19 epidemic is extremely infectious, deadly to the elderly, can overwhelm hospital capacity, and can be highly asymptomatic. So it is imperative that we adopt a nuanced strategy to counter this complex threat.
Ninety-five percent of India’s population is under the age of 60. Covid-19 is largely fatal to people over the age of 60. Then it is possible to observe isolates, hospitalization and treatment specific to each age, which reduces the problem to 5% of the population. Localized blockade measures in specific states, districts, and blocks based on migration patterns can be an alternative to national blockade. Ubiquitous testing through the private sector and isolation of positive cases may be another specific strategy. Extending work schedules across multiple shifts may be another approach. I am sure that many people will have several other ideas for a more balanced approach to social distancing than the current absolute and absolute blockade strategy.
It is important to move from the current binary “extreme death block by Covid-19” to a more nuanced debate. Going from a full block to a more specific block is perhaps the most viable and best option for India.
John Maynard Keynes “We are all dead in the long run” is often cited at that time, but for millions of Indians, long-term is about surviving today for tomorrow.
Praveen Chakravarty is a political economist and senior congressional officer.
The opinions expressed are personal.