The resurgence of the covid pandemic in the neighbour People’s Republic of China (PRC) has quite rightly triggered alarm bells in New Delhi and several state admin capitals. Although the PRC government of a communist dictatorship has stopped publishing data on the number of Covid infections and fatalities, by all indications the deadly virus and its several variants, hitherto supressed by a globally unprecedented rigorous lockdown of industry, business, education institutions and entire cities with huge populations, is back with a vengeance. Through over-reliance on lockdowns, testing and isolation and relative neglect of vaccination as also insistence on using the under-tested indigenous Sinovac vaccine, the Xi Jinping government has landed the country in its current mess which is certain to cause huge economic, if not political damage.
Back home in India, with the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear the initial reaction of the BJP/NDA government to broadcast a peremptory order to shutdown the economy and especially all public transport nationwide at four hours’ notice, was too panicky. It visited unprecedented misery on millions of migrant workers. But subsequent pandemic management strategy of mass vaccination and expeditious opening up of economic activity even at the risk of a spurt in fatalities, was the more intelligent option.
Admittedly India’s official count of Covid fatalities during the two pandemic years at 530,707 is incredible and the estimate of 5 million is more reliable. But it was a small price to pay to get the engines of the economy humming again. Evidently the strategy of combining work from home, mass vaccination and masking has paid off.
Last year the economy grew at 6.9 percent — the highest rate of growth worldwide — stock market indices scaled new heights, cricket and football stadiums filled up and the hotels and tourism industries revived.
This time round in the event of the virus or new variants thereof entering and spreading within India, the central and state governments should persist with wfh where possible, vaccination, masking and reasonable precautions, and not repeat mistakes of the pandemic years. First, industry and business lockdowns must be localised. Second, all senior citizens should be pressured to take the precautionary booster dose. And the worst mistake of the 2020-2022 pandemic — locking down schools and education institutions — must not be repeated. The prolonged education moratorium — the longest of any major country — has inflicted huge learning loss on the world’s largest child and youth population whose impact will be felt in years to come.
New variants of the virus are likely to be less virulent; the general population has improved its immunity and it’s now proven that children are less susceptible. Lessons of the past must be learned and improved upon while previous mistakes eliminated.
In the final analysis it’s preferable for a few to be struck down by the virus than for millions to suffer prolonged illness, hunger and deprivation. That’s the advantage of a large population.