Synopsis: Partial lockdowns again are going to widen economic and social inequalities. Every step towards prevention must consider the Lessons learnt from the first COVID-19 wave in India.
- India’s second COVID-19 wave is more contagious than the first. Many States have imposed lockdowns of various scales. However, political rallies, social and religious events are still ongoing, making these restrictions meaningless.
How did the first wave lead to uneven growth?
The International Monetary Fund estimated India’s GDP to grow at 12.5% this year, but this growth cannot be inclusive.
- Firstly, the technological, pharmaceutical, and healthcare sectors saw the greatest growth. The wealth of billionaires in India increased by 35% even during the pandemic.
- Secondly, sectors including travel and tourism and wellness and hospitality recorded historic lows. The pandemic destroyed the informal and MSME sector. It pushed 75 million Indians into poverty.
- Thirdly, the unplanned lockdown highlighted the vulnerability of the migrant workers and poor as they had to walk back to their villages.
- Fourth, many economists predicted that India’s revival from the COVID-19 induced depression would be a ‘K-shaped’ curve. It means only a part of our population recovers.
- Fifthly, COVID-19 has affected the poor the most. Introducing partial lockdowns will limit the movement of goods and laborers. It will considerably reduce industrial productivity and create paths that will widen our inequalities.
Interconnected industries can function at the maximum possible capacity in multiple shifts. However, Strict health and safety regulations should be framed and followed. Non-essential gatherings should be banned.
- Firstly, governments will have to account for demand contraction. Thus, it should urgently ensure cash incentive packages at both individual and institutional levels. This will boost consumption and investments.
- Secondly, the need to provide additional provisions for job stamps; direct cash transfer and employment guarantee schemes.
- Thirdly, the NYAY scheme that guarantees a minimum income of ₹6,000 to every household is a solution that needs to be used at this time.
- Fourthly, reports indicate that new COVID-19 mutations are challenging even to the younger population. India will have to speed up vaccine production, procurement, and distribution.
- Fifthly, open vaccination for all age groups. This would make it easier for the majority of laborers to be present at their workplaces with lesser risks. Students will also be able to attend classes and examinations.
The government should take responsibility for the lapses in the health care system and vaccine shortages. The private sector and NGOs played a huge role in quickly scaling up healthcare infrastructure during the first wave. With political will and public participation, we should now be able to save lives without negotiating on our population’s livelihood.
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