We are nearing the end of a 21 day declared and a 24 day actual lock down. It has been mercilessly and thoughtlessly extended by another 15 days. While fear rules the upper classes, the poor wonder what is it that they are being punished for.
The economy is already in a mess. Agricultural operations need to be opened, very, very urgently. The govt is just unable to solve the food and health problems of the people. Protests are bursting out. Ruling leaders remain in denial mode. But for the police and media, essential services remain paralysed. Crucial question is how will peoples locked down lives restart? It is the rich who have been vehicles of spread of this epidemic and their fears are mainly fuelling the lock down.
Agriculture has suffered much, migrants because harvesting has been delayed; markets have remained closed; peasants are unable to resource implements and other necessary material; machines are awaiting repair; police has prevented movement; labour is not available, are waiting to go home and available labour is costly; debts are rising; small peasants depending on vegetable farming and milk have already been hit as supply to cities is down; and there is no guarantee of mandis opening while peasants glare at both distress sale and weather problems.
It must be underlined that with 50% of India involved in agriculture related activities, restarting agriculture will require restarting most of transport, trade and human movement. How, now is the question.
Manufacturing and industry are affected. According to NSS Office’s Annual Survey of Industries there are 1,95,584 registered factories in India employing 156 lac workers. (IE, April 7, 2020, Which Factories should reopen after India’s Corona virus lockdown?) The lock down on them has been almost complete. In addition to losses suffered, now whenever it opens, supply line problems, low demand and labour shortage threatens them. Moreover, imports from China and other countries where production is on, will ruin many of them. Some assess that we are looking at almost 15 million jobs being lost.
Health Care has vanished into the thin air: Almost all hospitals, clinics, nursing homesare shut for routine care. Emergencies are not attended to even in govt hospitals as they are only waiting for Corona cases. Most doctors, in tune with all middle and upper class have been scared into hiding, as they have not been provided with Personal Protection Equipment (PPEs) and they do not want exposure. Due to extreme short supply of safety gears, the working medical staff has become scarce. They are both being threatened andare being lured with extra pay incentives.
Corporate hospital services also have largely closed down. For them it is neither possible to make profit, nor it is time to be seenas not fulfilling social responsibility. The govt could and should have taken over all these corporate hospitals and converted them into Corona care centres.
Peoples’ misery knows no end. Supplies are running thin. Situation is worsening by the day.
The problem in short is this. When on 19th March the Prime Minister, in macho mode, made a ferment appeal for just ‘one day Janata curfew, sirfek din’, the numbers infected by Corona in India were just 173 with 23 new cases that day. When the trains and all transport were blocked on 21st night the total infected were 283 with 60 new cases that day. And when on 24 March night a complete 3 week lock down was announced and flights were stoppedthe total infected were 519 with 88 new cases. Today, April 12, when there is a very urgent need to open up the economy and get people restarted, the total cases are 8356, with 1035 new cases and 40 deaths one day before and 909 new cases and 34 deaths in last 24 hours. How will India now open the lock down, which is reputed to be the harshest, most extensive and most cruel in the world.
Could we have learnt from Bangladesh? They are not facing much problem in opening up. In fact, they deny they are under lockdown, as the word creates panic. The govt had announced on March 22 a 10 day holiday from 26th March onwards, till April 4. In between for 4 days it had motivated its workers to go home, allowing rail and road transport to further operate for an additional 2 days upto March 27th.
On January 22 itself they had put their airports on alert to screen (symptoms and thermal screening by doctors) all travellers from China. On Feb 2, visas for travellers from China were suspended. In addition, in all goods ships coming from east, their human travellers put under surveillance.
Then, when on 8thMarch 3 cases were confirmed it immediately suspended mass program in honour of their greatest icon, Mujibur Rehman, whose daughter rules the country. But we were actively allowing oath taking ceremonies on March 23 and Ram Lala puja on March 25th. That highlights the level of consciousness and preparedness of our political leadership. After its first death on March 18th, the first area lockdowns in Shibchar and Madaripur were imposed. As of April 9, 52 residential areas of Dhaka are under lock down. Incidentally Bangladesh has a large number of people settled in Italy, which suffered a very heavy attack of nCorona.
Total infected as on April 12, 482. Total dead 30.
Population density of Bangladesh is 1,116 per square km in comparison to 464 for India.
Out of Bangladesh’s 160 million people, 4 million are employed in the apparel industry. As per a report dated April 3, only 1 million of these were laid off during Corona holiday, that too due to decline in orders. The rest were working sporting masks, as imposition of wearing masks was amongst the first precautions to be implemented.
In India the use of masks is still very scarce, particularly in villages and in slums. They have an importance in preventing exhalation of and inhalation of droplets, the mode by which this virus spreads. They also prevent people from unnecessarily touching their faces, another necessary precaution. They also act as a mascot for promoting implementation of other safety measures like distancing and washing of hands. And they stay in place. But no less than a person than the Prime Minister of India has belittled this by promoting his ‘new’ discovery, the ‘Gamcha’. Quite obviously this was done to evade the responsibility of providing people with masks. The govt could have provided people with cloth and thread, created a social movement of stitching and distributing masks. But it has chosen otherwise.
In Sri Lanka also a severe lockdown was imposed, but here also the govt first announced a warning, then declared a holiday and then announced a curfew. Moreover, it provided transport for people to leave the capital Colombo by running special trains and buses. As of April 12, it had 199 cases, 7 deaths. Population Density 341 per sq km.
Could our leadership have learnt from Pakistan? That is a very tall order. But we must know that Pakistan’s lockdown amongst the least severe and at the outset its Prime minister announced that Pakistan is a poor country and it has little ability to provide for 25% of its population. Its lock down began in Sindh province, that too gradually. The governments allowed time for people to return back with the federal government stopping the railways only six days after the first provincial lock down. As on April 12, 5038 cases with 86 deaths. Population Density 287 per sq km. Incidentally Pakistan has a porous border with Iran and of course large number of Chinese now.
Of the other countries in Indian Subcontinent Nepal has 12 cases as of today, 8 of who came from abroad, 3 are Indian nationals and one is a local transmission. Nepal first imposed restrictions from March 1st itself including stoppage of visas from 5 countries including China, compulsory checking and quarantine for international arrivals. A lock down was imposed from March 24th. It has a large number of Chinese travellers due to projects and tourism. There are no deaths.
In Bhutan the first case was detected on March 6, all 90 contacts were quarantined, all foreign tourists were restricted. It has a total of 5 cases, all with travel history.
India is supposed to have taken a leaf out of the Wuhan experience. But as is quoted in an article in The Scroll by Shoaib Daniyal, dated March 31,an Indian working in Beijing, said that the China lockdown was less drastic than the one India has instituted. “Unlike India, in Beijing, buses ran. Cabs were made to run after the first week with a plastic sheet between the passenger and the driver. Domestic flights and trains were only barred from some provinces, not all.” In fact, public transport has not been totally closed in any country in Europe or USA. Moreover it is well known that China locked down only Wuhan and its province Hubei completely as it was the epicentre of the spread of this virus. But it mobilized the entire rest of the country to serve each and every house with food and other necessities.
SAARC move: The Indian govt had taken initiative to set up a SAARC coordination and fund for which it even offered 10 m dollars on March 14th. That would have been a good move to share experience and help each other. But after Pakistan designated a junior Health official to coordinate, India considered this as an insult to the initiative also and to SAARC. Then for some reason the move was not followed up.
The stringency index records the number and strictness of govt policies enforced to check the spread of the virus. This was done by the Oxford’s Covid Govt Response Tracker or OxCGRT. It collected data on based on nine indicators of government response — school closure, workplace closures, public event cancellation, public transport closure, public information campaigns, restriction on internal movement, and international travel controls (S1 to S7) and two others (S12 and S13) These are evaluated on an ordinary scale while four financial indicators, S8 to S11 are are fiscal measures, monetary measures, emergency investment in healthcare and investments in vaccines.
As per this data response of 73 countries have been evaluated. China is one country which was at a stringency index of 76.2 on March 9 and brought it down to 42.9. by end March. India then was at 47.6 and soon went on to 100. It is one of the 18 countries to score a 100 on this index. It will be interesting to see how SriLanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan fared on this scale, but unfortunately their exact evaluation is not reflected in the reports.
What has this strictness cost us?
India has 139 million migrant workers. Very few have reached their homes. Those that have, suffered on foot for hundreds of kilometres. All remaining are tied down either to their place of work, or “quarantined” for indiscipline enroute, not for Corona. The message has gone out far and wide that now these migrant workers are the source of spread of the virus. Rulers in states from which they come are themselves advocating that they don’t come back.
And these migrant workersare living without work and wages, with very meagre food supplies, without shops, bound mostly to their dwellings or containment cages. They are being abused, threatened and beaten. It is presumed that they are carriers of Corona. They are baton-charged, even fired at if they protest and arrested. All because the rich are petrified that they may spread the virus.
So, they have become properly ‘socially distanced’, unwanted outcastes, without material reason. Only because of the panic spread by the central govt. They are sprayed with insecticides on the way, something which is not done even to animals as the insecticide can kill the human but not the virus. This photo below is from Lucknow, while an earlier incident was from Bareilly. Ignorant villagers have been made to believe that since the migrant labour have come back from big cities, they definitely are carriers. After all, our rulers believe so. They have at places been prevented from entering villages. Some dead are not cremated by even relatives for the same fear. And not to be left far behind, Corona now also has a Manuwadi colour. The lower down the social ladder you are, worse is your plight, especially if you are a Muslim, a Dalits or an OBCs. The police is at the centre of such discrimination in allowing people to travel out during the lockdown.
The magnitude of this loss due to problem of migrants is much bigger than is visible. For example, the value of financial remittances into Bihar villages from labour working outside was assessed to be 35.6% of the Gross state domestic product of the state in 2011-12 (IE, April 10, Through the Prism of crisis, Christophe Jaffrelot and Hemal Thakkar). Workers send back 25 to 50% of what they earn, in order that their families can survive. Over last two decades such migrations from a number of poorly developed states like Jharkhand, Odisha, Chattisgarh, MP have risen.
Colonial Mindset: This display of the colonial mindset of our rulers toward common people is vulgar. The stark reality is that in the entire sub-continent, the colonial laws and attitude is being worst administered in India. The people are to blame for not allowing governance to continue as ‘required’ by those in power. Possibly Indian rulers consider themselves to be the true heirs of British colonial heritage.
All evidence so far from Corona spread, amply proves the continuing ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude of the Govt’s decision making. Major faults of the Govt and tasks for us are:
- Switch to Precautions Mode: The govt refuses to accept that Corona, like any other virus cannot be prevented from spreading. Spread it will anyway. Only due precautions can one delay its spread. The precautions have already become a casualty. The law enforcement system is in ‘knock down’ mode of pushing people ‘indoors’, treating them as illiterate criminals, who can’t understand the ‘extremely serious situation’ arising out of the Corona threat. From the very top, i.e. the political leadership, this remains the thrust, as it is unable to switch to implement the precautions mode.
- Accept the infection will spread, accept the collateral damage: Corona spread is sourced only from international travel and it is still concentrated in cities, particularly those having more international travellers. There is hardly any case reported from any village. This spread, world-wide, has been concentrated in areas with cold temperatures and closed doors, rather than in open air. That actually could be a possible cause for it spreading less in the under-developed areas of poorer countries, especially those situated below 50 degrees latitude, as one study said. It is also strongly suspected that the Indian summer will not kill it and air-conditioned mass gatherings will remain a spreading source. We have yet not been given data on the social and class routes of spread in India. That data will give more answers to prevention methods and thrust. The answers could come from implementing these measures over a several months as the spread will linger on. The collateral damage during this has to be accepted.
- Choking transport and economy is not the answer. That this lock down of peoples’ lives, economy and the health care, is causing caused much larger loss than would have ever been caused by Corona. The richbelieve that for them much bigger loss would have be caused by the virus, while the poor question the rich, both for resourcing the virus and locking out their lives. Survival is becoming a big problem for the working people.
- Account for deaths due to lack of medical facility: While people suffer from both hunger and loss of livelihood in this lockout, the major immediate damage is due to total collapse of health care, for diabetics, hypertensives, ANC cases, diarheas, fevers and infections, the list is endless. Loss of lives due to this is still to be assessed, but surely it loss is thousands of times that of Novel Corona.
- Mobilize people, don’t punish them: The thrust to push and punish people for no fault of theirs has to stop. The desire should be to mobilize them to implement precautions. That is the answer.
- Herd Immunity with lower losses: Finally, it also needs to be stressed that there is a medical purpose also in making the economy function with checks and precautions for preventing spread. It allows as well as slows down the spread which reduces the number of immediate patients needing attention and allowing the medical services to take care of them. It also helps herd immunity to develop due to the slow transmission, finally obliterating the spread, as the virus keeps encountering more and more hosts who are healthy and already immune to it.
Imperialist/ Corporate Model of Development: The way Corona has spread, in and from city and industrial centres of the developed world should also lead us to critically evaluate this imperialist dictated development model. Villages have been left barren and all economic concentration is on cities, where active labour migrates in large numbers. That such centres can breed lethal diseases like Novel Corona 19, while villages still may remain untouched, should lead us to rethink this model.
The perils of floating on a bloated HOT AIR Balloon are that the ground reality will remain far away and the country will suffer very serious economic and socio-political problems. It must be addressed.