A Long Haul

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INDIA continues to struggle with the rising number of Coronavirus cases. The number has now crossed 27 lakh with death toll at 52000. However, over the past three days there has been decline in the number of daily cases from the highest of over 63 thousand cases to now 55 thousand. We can take heart from the fact that the number of recoveries has also grown exponentially. At over 73 percent, India has one of the best recovery rates in the world.

But this hardly detracts from the challenge of the fast spreading contagion. Without a vaccine or an effective medicine to treat the disease, the infection seems here to stay. And as the situation over the past four months underlines, the lockdowns don’t serve much purpose beyond a point. That too, for as big and as densely populated a country as India. On the contrary, the lockdown has only flattened the growth curve of the economy. According to a rough estimate, India’s economy may have contracted by as much as a fourth in  June quarter because of the lockdown necessitated by Covid-19 pandemic. The contraction estimates range from 14 to 26 percent and are in line with those seen in other countries hit hard by the contagion.

But the gradual unlocking of the economy has brought back some economic activity. It will need some generous government support to bring the economy back on the rails. Almost all sectors of the economy have been drastically affected.

At the same time, unless the government gets a grip on the runaway infection, the economy will continue to struggle. Thankfully there are some vaccine candidates whose development is at an advanced stage. The central government has already asked five pharmaceutical firms, including three that have candidates in clinical trials –  Serum Institute of India, Bharat Biotech and Zydus Cadila – to let it know by Thursday on how soon they can produce large quantities and what pricing they expect if their shot is approved. So far, Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is largely considered the front runner globally. Although, Russia has also announced a vaccine recently, there’s a growing skepticism about its efficacy.

Meanwhile, the key to defeat Coronavirus is not locking the country down as it is a cure worse than the disease.  We need to create more awareness among the people and let them take charge of the prevention efforts. And this has not been done as aggressively as was needed. What is needed is to encourage the preventive behaviour by people through a stringent enforcement of law against people publicly violating the safety precautions. And certainly not the lockdown.

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