How we are living now is much the scenario of our foreseeable future: better to accept and adjust if we value life and living
“In the years to come, Covid-19 year 2020 will probably be etched in the memory of the present generation as deeply as cyclone Carol in 1960 is ingrained in ours, and it will surely figure in our history books as the event that determined the course of the rest of the 21st century…”
By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee
To date the Covid-19 pandemic has affected about 2.7 million people in 193 countries, causing about 182,000 deaths, with the US having the largest number of deaths (47K), followed by Italy (25K), Spain (22K), France (21K) and UK (18K). They are among the richest countries in the world, with most advanced health systems. Someday when it is all completely over – maybe two years down the line at least (because a vaccine will not likely be available for large scale immunization for about 18 months according to the experts) – they will have to analyse why they were so battered, whereas a developing country like Vietnam (population: 97 million) has not reported a single death from coronavirus as of April 21, out of 268 infected cases.
But already, two explanations seem to be emerging: the delay in acknowledging the seriousness of the pandemic and initiating measures; the overdependence on a single supply chain, namely China, for everything needed from surgical masks to gloves, other protective equipments, ventilators, test kits, etc – this has been highlighted by Governor Cuomo of New York in his daily briefings.
On the other hand, a country like Singapore which had been held up as a model of efficient handling of the pandemic earlier on, suddenly started facing a surge in cases after lifting its lockdown – which had to be quickly reinstated, with stricter measures.
As our own lockdown lifting is approaching on May 4, we have to learn from the experience of other countries, not repeat mistakes made, humbly learn lessons that are emerging and apply them in our context. That is the only way forward if we do not want a repetition of the Singapore experience locally, and while it is true that it is becoming a pressing issue to start opening up so that the economy can get going again, that will necessarily have to be accompanied by conditions that will have to be spelt out and abided by.
One constant apprehension in all countries that are planning to lift restrictions is a second surge, and there is wide consensus that community testing is essential to assess the extent of spread of Covid-19 in the population, before taking the call on opening up and the modalities. It’s definitely something we must seriously heed.
Assuming that our health system has everything in place to continue coping with the pandemic, the economic impact of the crisis is the next big concern that dominates thinking, and an article in the UK’s PROSPECT magazine of April 17, by Tim Pitt reckons that ‘the economic impact of this crisis will play out in four phases, with each one influenced by the choices made in the previous ones, culminating in a fierce debate about who pays for it all’.
We are in the current phase, an unprecedented one, with ‘large swathes of the economy put into hibernation’. Here we are looking ahead, starting May 4 (hopefully!) to move into phase two: slowly rebooting the economy as the lockdown lifts. Next will come the third phase: the ‘economy adjusts to the post-Covid-19 reality: supply chains may be transformed; people’s travel and working habits will be different; and the government will want to build the resilience of the private and public sectors to future shocks. Because these will be long-term shifts, the government will need to move from a bailout mentality to letting the economy restructure…’
And then will come the final phase, when the reality to be reckoned with is that ‘post-crisis our national debt will reach levels unseen since the aftermath of the Second World War… The structural deficit will also be bigger than pre-crisis… will therefore need to reduce borrowing’.
In the years to come, Covid-19 year 2020 will probably be etched in the memory of the present generation as deeply as cyclone Carol in 1960 is ingrained in ours, and it will surely figure in our history books as the event that determined the course of the rest of the 21st century.
However, as we prepare to face the inevitable shocks that await us, let us not forget that it is primarily a health issue that has triggered and precipitated the parallel economic crisis; the two are inextricably linked, and the fundamental logic is simple enough: a healthy economy depends on a healthy workforce.
To a large extent, keeping in good health is the responsibility of each individual – the experts are there to give the necessary advice based on current knowledge and the dynamics of any evolving situation (such as this pandemic), with the authorities setting in place all the infrastructural and legal parameters required for this advice to be rigorously followed.
In fact, broadly we can say that as far as the lockdown goes locally, ‘so far so good’: people have in general been cooperating, and this explains why we have been able to slow the progression of Covid-19.
All the indications are that well into phase three of the crisis, per the preceding definition, the sanitary precautions advocated and a significant portion of the general measures that have been implemented as part of the same framework will have to be maintained: in other words, we are now living the new normal.
It is not as if on May 5 we will go crazy and haywire like animals let out of a cage, and go back to the way we had been doing before: much of how we are doing things now will have to continue. Because there a few stark realities to keep in mind:
The lockdown is in place to slow the progression of the disease, NOT to eradicate it by end of May.
Flattening the curve means slowing down the disease so that hospitals can cope with the sick.
It does not mean eradicating the disease altogether.
No government will be able to eradicate the disease this year – because, as noted above, no vaccine will as yet be available. Unless a miracle happens.
But there are no miracles in medicine, alas.
How we are living now is much the scenario of our foreseeable future: better to accept and adjust if we value life and living.
* Published in print edition on 24 April 2020
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