Live with it!


We all have used statistics at one time or another to convert complicated social problems into more easily understood estimates, percentages, and rates. They are neither magical nor mere numbers, but media and politicians are wont to treat them as powerful representations of the truth, distilling the complexity and confusion of reality into simple facts for the wider audience. Some hold particular attraction for the authorities as they try to influence or shape our worldview: for instance, GDP or other macro-economic indicators illustrating our purported high-income status without detailing wealth or income inequalities, public debt expressed in local Rupees instead of Dollars, joblessness figures when trimmed of those not actively seeking employment and many other instances of similar purport.

Lately, the pandemic figures of Covid infection cases and related deaths have come under increasing scrutiny – as being less than subtly massaged to conform with the narrative of Government, faced as it is with the pressure needed to reopen frontiers so as to avert an economic and social melt-down. On the basis of double vaccination rates having reached some 65% of the adult population, and that most Covid cases are asymptomatic, PCR tests are no longer being performed in health centres, infected people are sent off to home self-isolation, death  figures associated with Covid-infected patients look stubbornly wayward even if the dedicated cemetery at Bigara has overflown onto Bois Marchand and health personnel, unable to complain, are known to be heavily stretched, tired and understaffed.

While an apparently highly infective variant has drifted into the country several months ago, with new cases showing an exponential rise to peak at above 300 per day despite the vaccination drive, we are now in a similar situation to model Singapore where, despite an 80% vaccination rate, daily cases peaked at more than 1000 per day over the weekend. According to yesterday’s Straits Times, “There are currently 863 Covid-19 patients in the hospital and also 105 cases in need of oxygen supplementation and 18 in critical condition in the intensive care unit…Of those who have fallen very ill, 100 are seniors above 60.” While Singapore faces the same vital necessity of re-opening its economy, it prides itself on quality medical infrastructure and the honest and unbiased reporting of facts; it would most certainly not allow politicians and their advisers to meddle with them or massage the statistics to suit the government narrative.

Live with the virus is clearly the motto of government in echo to the sound bytes from business sectors which have most felt the squeeze from the pandemic, tourism and hospitality and the thousands of jobs and small businesses which depend indirectly on them to survive and thrive. It is a perfectly defendable tenet for the authorities regarding a sector that directly employs and indirectly affects 100,000 families or more, for smaller concerns which were already struggling under debts and those that may not survive without some extension of the assistance schemes to better days, hopefully before the year end. In return, the population might feel entitled to less opaque dealings at the Central Bank’s disbursement agency, less doctoring of Covid facts and a new approach to honest and frank discussions of alternatives.

We may have to live with the virus for years to come but there are clear dangers to our democratic space and values were the “live with it” stand out as a pervasive if not overriding motto for government action in all governance spheres. Do we really have to live with it if our Parliament is the butt of jokes here as elsewhere, if Opposition members are expelled for indefinite durations at the drop of the hat by the Speaker and Leader of the House, if our esteemed police force is struggling to complete an inquiry in the murder of MSM agent Kistnen, if the other ‘independent’ institutions are busily silent about any of their high-profile investigations, if the guardians of democratic institutions like the Electoral Supervisory and the Electoral Boundary Commissions are stuffed with nominees close to the party in power? Live with it, really?

* Published in print edition on 21 September 2021

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