Covid-19: count and estimates
Who is afraid of the virus?
By mid of September, India’s Covid-19 caseload crossed a million mark. Ever since, the world’s worst hit India’s large population began to endure it fearlessly. One and half months later, the caseload shrunk nearly half, even when daily new cases are in thousands. Where did that secret rapid-recovery magic come from?, asks Sajikumar, who is authoring a book on India’s Covid-19 trials.
India has become the world’s worst Covid-19 hit after hitting the million-mark on 18th September. Unless we stop the newly fashioned toll count, Covid19 pandemic is not going to go away so easily, even though people have begun to take it slightly, says Sajikumar, who has just completed the manuscript of his second book that is on Covid-19 pandemic. It is indeed, not very seriously fearful plaguelike pandemic, though it is made-to-be fearful, he tells emphatically.
India had great optimism in the initial stage and even boasted about the slow pace of infection. We stayed tightly bolted to our doors and saved ourselves from the summer heat.
That was a futile exercise as the spread of infection then was slower. So much we talked about ourselves and tried to find comfort in a proportionately lower number of Covid19 infections in the earlier months. We compared our population density with the number of Covid19 cases to draw a line of comfort for ourselves. We could have been comfortable had we looked at it realistically and rationally, he adds.
In April and May, some statistics predicted India’s numbers to jump manifolds. We felt that was a heavily exaggerated prediction and were not ready to subscribe to their views. Later, the prediction was proved to be only a conservative estimate. The actual number that started coming out was much higher. Many people stopped counting meaningless daily numbers. Any size of escalation in the number of new cases may not be a surprising number, since even seasonal cold-cough-fever is also counted in the account of the pandemic.
No other country in the world has seen so strict a nation-wide lockdown that India has seen, for so long a period. No other country in the world might have seen laying off so many workers that we have seen in India. And no other country might have seen so much food grain distributed to so many people. All these happened, because India has taken so many actions in a hurry, too early without sufficient home-work. In a democracy, an elected government is accountable to people for actions and failures equally.
We need to make an impact assessment of the blind orders to lock down the entire country, free ration distribution to 800 million people, cash transfers to poor women, `20 trillion worth economic refuelling, liberal loan and a longer moratorium on repayment, etc with a thorough realistic sense. So many policy plans have been put on hold. Infrastructure development, disinvestment plans, bad loan recovery plans of banks and so many other actions are in limbo. A pandemic could do everything worse that a normal
We saw the worst when India reported a contraction of a quarter of its GDP in the first quarter. The free ration was not supposed to fuel economic growth, the cash transfers to create demands, liberal loans to restart small businesses and moratorium as relief measures were supposed to fire the economy in the long run. Construction segment was contracted by more than 50 per cent. The segment is completely dormant, except those segments where force majeure was not applicable. Even in those segments where force majeure was not applicable, the plights of workers led to shutting the worksite. Things did not change even by October end, though some sectors like automotive reported a growth and GST collection was higher. His question – is it a pent-up growth? – can be answered only in the subsequent months.
The pandemic mess
Concerns will continue
India has to rise from the sickbed laid by the pandemic. A lockdown that happened in India too early when the caseload wasn’t of a worrisome size annihilated hopes of millions at the boom of the pyramid. Now millions are jobless for many months and facing the uncertainty of their placements. A lion’s share of private and unorganized sector employees couldn’t do anything but to live with pay-cuts and pay-losses.
There are millions of families in which the-only-bread earner is now staring at economic uncertaines. Many of them did not receive any government aid, thanks to their earlier income. They undergo an inexplicable agony and angry with their misfortune. Their rehabilitation is a huge socio-economic challenge. This segment of people can be absorbed only by small and micro-enterprises. However, the fate of the small and micro enterprises depends on how well the government handholds them. Many of them may have been given credits, which are returnable liabilities. If things do not fall well for them and their turnaround is delayed, the credits may prove to be an addition to their agonies. Such a situation may harm job stability of people and the books of banks. In fact, the stability of small businesses will ensure job stability of people. As the lockdown, which has already passed seven months, continues questioning the necessity of remaining locked down.
There may have been some arguments of helplessness about the lockdown, which seemed necessary as a precaution when the world was reeling in mess. But in the Indian context, the precaution could have been exercised discreetly. There was a necessity of a calculated exercise. But in a heavily populated democracy, the herd demands and fear of people have great bearing on the image of an elected government, since the speed of virus infecting people couldn’t have been predicted. Four months later, when the lockdown was begun to be eased stage-wise the number of Covid-19 cases was ruling new peaks. That questioned the decision-makers’ wisdom.
The complete lockdown all of a sudden devastated many people and displaced many people from their job sites, locking them up in a terrific nightmare. The works half-done were thrown into limbo and laborers returned home, some never to return. Many small enterprises, which ran their affairs hand-to-mouth, had huge unrealized income from their business. The me was too short for even wage settlement. Strict police rule on streets beating away the violators of orders suppressed every activity. The me was too short for laborers to collect their wages and contractors to settle their daily accounts with the wage earners. The summer mess was more terrible than the novel coronavirus of China’s make. In seven months, when things are said to be changing as indicated by GST revenue growth, improving sales of motor vehicles and rising rail freight, the overall picture is yet to be optimistic and inclusive.