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Opinion

COVID-19 lockdown: India’s poor are the hardest hit

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Consumption shock severe, economic recovery will take longer, poorest hit the hardest: RBI                                                                    

The above headlines appeared on the front page of a newspaper on August 26. Is it not strange to read this after 5 months of lockdown when so much has been written and expressed in the media? Or, is this some kind of divine revelation?

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As a matter of fact, in the month of May, a number of reports appeared in the press covering this article. These started with the migrant labour issue; being herded like cattle in trucks. By the end of May, entire families from the slums in Cities were on the road, begging. The author had also written two blogs on the subject: Pathetic condition of Indian migrant workers – a first-hand experience and Social Distancing leading to Emotional Distancing .

Of course, one does not have to be an economist or financial wizard to conclude that closing down of all businesses and economic activities such as factories, shops, malls, theatres, restaurants, bars, transport services…. would lead to this situation. There was some relaxation in May and June but not enough for the economy to pick up. It is an endless chain; A pays B for goods or for services rendered, B to C, C to D and so on, till it comes back to A. Unless transport services, recreation, cultural activities, vacation, entertainment and the hospitality sector opens up, economic recovery will be slow and the under-privileged will continue to suffer.

On August 27, the headlines on the front page were even more shocking ‘Squeezed by Covid, salaries on hold: states’ SOS to Centre.’ In the month of June, after the lockdown was eased, in several parts of the country, the economy started improving but re-imposition of the lockdown or even stricter imposition of lockdown in some of the important states have brought this situation today. Some states did not permit entry of flights from other important cities within the country; they made different norms for travel and quarantine, even sealed borders with adjoining states. One wonders if it would be appropriate to rename the country as “NSI”, Non-united States of India.

It’s very easy to say ‘Squeezed by Covid’ but the fact is that ad hoc decisions are taken without weighing the consequences or pros and cons; a typical example of opening private offices, shops and some establishments but not permitting the employees to travel by local trains Another example is collecting statistics by sending a team of 2 persons with an infrared thermometer and Oxy-meter to measure the profile of every household and record details of each and every family member along with the name, sex and age. I enquired how the data collected will be used but received no answer. We all know that body temperature and oxygen levels can increase due to umpteen reasons -. Was this expenditure incurred to convey that the Authorities are looking after the health of the citizens? All government buildings and private corporate/office buildings have, at respective entrances, posted a person to measure the temperature of everyone entering the premises.  I enquired of one such person about instructions given to him? He said if the temperature is 38deg C or more, I would be asked to rest for about 30 minutes at the entrance and subjected to a re-check; if the temperature has not still reduced, I will not be permitted to enter the building and asked to go back home. Still unsatisfied, I asked his supervisor the next day; I was shocked to hear his explanation: ‘if the temperature is high, he has been provided with a telephone number which he will call and a vehicle will come to take me away’. Fortunately for me, my temperature has been always less than 37deg C.

Instead, why not collect statistics of loss of jobs, starvation, domestic violence, mental depression, resultant deaths from slum dwellers and compare with these with statistics reported every day about Covid cases, their recovery and mortality.  The terminology used is slum dwellers and non-slum dwellers; slum dwellers not only include domestic helpers but also drivers, masons, carpenters, plumbers and other trades in addition to construction workers, all combined, a very large force. They have additional problems if they fall sick; earlier, they could visit municipal dispensaries or Government hospitals which now only cater to Corona patients; they have started begging for money to visit a private doctor.

When the pandemic set in, in March, there was a fear of the unknown; it was a demon and everyone got paranoid; complete lockdown was imposed and in a hurry, special facilities were created in hospitals, in other buildings and even on open grounds. It was feared that millions may die. Now after 6 months, symptoms have changed and in the opinion of some epidemiologists, this should be considered just like another variety of flu. Today, even errors in testing are being debated; Mr Tushar Gore, MD/CEO of Resonance Laboratories writes ‘Probability of being falsely identified as Covid-19 is quite high. When no test is 100% accurate, the key aspect to consider is disease prevalent in the population being tested.’ A large percentage of patients, tested positive neither had any symptoms at the time of admission in a hospital nor did they develop during the 4 or 5 days of stay after which they were discharged declaring that they were cured! In the US, between the Centre for Disease Control & Prevention and the Department of Health & Human Services, there is a controversy going on about testing of symptomless persons who have been within 6 feet of an infected person for 15 minutes.

Is it not surprising to read in our newspapers ‘The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has modified its guidelines to make institutional isolation mandatory for all Covid-19 positive patients aged above 50 years in Mumbai irrespective of whether they have any symptoms of the infection. Patients may choose either government or private hospitals’. The next day it was reported that the office order is being modified to change the wording; the patients will be persuaded to go for institutional isolation in a hospital.

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COVID-19 lockdown: India's poor are the hardest hit

The latest figure of Covid-19 cases reported, now (August 28) after 6 months is 33,10,234; recovered 25,23,771; deaths 60,472 (1.83%, out of this, a large number could be because of comorbidities—non-communicable –reported to contribute to nearly two-thirds of annual deaths around the world ). Let us compare this with the normal annual death rate which is reported at 7.2 per thousand= 0.72%; the population as of now is a little over 138.76 crores (International Institute of Population Studies). Thus the normal annual deaths are about 1 crore/year. One cannot help but wonder how much will this increase due to the slowdown of the economy and all business activities with factories, establishments, shops, bars & restaurants etc. remaining closed leading to insurmountable misery of the hardest hit poor class and deaths thereof!

Written By

Anil Anand

Anil K Anand is currently the Director Technical, MICROTROL Sterilisation Services Pvt. Ltd. Former  Director Reactor Projects Group BARC. Scientific Consultant, Academy Industry Interaction in the office of the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Govt. He has authored books including The Second Strike, Submarine Propulsion - Muscle Power to Nuclear; Probating the Will and Testament. He can be contacted at [email protected] *views are Personal.

2 Comments

  1. Balakrisna Poduval

    Well written article. The two instruments listed in the article like thermometer and oxymeter are pillars to cause this fear. The oxymeter not heard even in March 2020. Diagnosis is the foundation of many diseases. Fever which has an adaptive value for survival has been demonised. The fear anger and depression would have caused huge health damage

    Reply
  2. k champakvas

    Well written article by Shri A.K.Anand, on the unfortunate events that resulted due to sudden and prolonged lockdown.
    It was a very difficult decision which was taken by authorities.The implementation of the lockdown without providing adequate support to the poor , immigrant labour was bad .

    Reply

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