Saturday, March 25, 2023
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No matter how you look at it, India’s lockdown-2 can cost as many lives as it will save

In the kind of lockdown extension PM Modi has announced, the costs outweigh the benefits. And it could claim many more lives over time. Government must assure food and security.

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Life or livelihood? This is the question we debated during the first India-wide lockdown or Lockdown-1. The answer was obvious: life came before livelihood. The nation supported Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The question has changed now with an extension of the nation-wide lockdown till 3 May or Lockdown-2. While the guidelines issued by the government provide for graded relaxation, there is still no sign or even promise of any expansion in social security for those affected by the lockdown. Now, the debate is about lives versus lives. Or rather, the balance is between visible loss of some lives versus the invisible loss of many more lives. Now the balance of argument has tilted decisively against continued lockdown.

I am not saying that Lockdown-1 was a bad idea. I had argued that given the range of expert knowledge and choices available three weeks ago, we cannot fault PM Narendra Modi for taking the call. It was badly executed, though: poor communication, absence of planning and high-handed implementation of the original decision had reduced it to a one-dimensional draconian response. The continuation of public health emergency does require pro-active and tough measures. But Lockdown-2 is clearly a medicine worse than the disease itself.

A quick summing up of both sides of the balance sheet reveals why benefits of the kind of lockdown extension PM Modi has announced clearly outweigh the costs.

Also read: Agriculture, construction and manufacturing units get relief under new norms for lockdown 2

Benefits of lockdown

On the positive side, we now know that the lockdown has helped us to reduce, at least for some time, the rate of spread of the coronavirus in India. In the three weeks between 24 March and 14 April, the total number of cases went up from 536 to 10,815.

If we compare it with where other countries had reached three weeks from the day they crossed 500 cases, it is clear that India has done better than others: in this comparable period (three weeks from the day a country crossed 500 identified cases), the number of cases crossed 38,000 in the UK, 41,000 in Italy, 50,000 in Germany, 73,000 in Spain and over 1 lakh in France and the US . We can compare the numbers of deaths, which are not likely to be massively under-reported. We have had around 350 deaths during these three weeks, compared to over 2,400 in the three weeks after the US crossed 500 cases.

It is fair to conclude that the lockdown has helped, even if our numbers for positive cases seem to be under-reported due to severe under-testing.

It is hard to say just how many lives may have been saved because this success is temporary. We are nowhere close to flattening the curve, nor are we likely to be there at the end of Lockdown-2. We have only succeeded in delaying the almost inevitable spread of the virus through much of our population. This delay is useful, for a sudden exponential growth could have resulted in a run on our fragile public health infrastructure. We can also assume that the psychological impact of the lockdown, the nation-wide awareness of “social distancing”, would help us reduce the total number of cases as well.

Based on this preliminary information, let us hazard a guess. Let us assume that India would have touched about a million cases (the number expected in the US) by the end of May. Let us assume that we maintain the current rate and contain the numbers to under 50,000 by the end of Lockdown-2 and under 2 lakh by the end of May this year. Since we may not have eliminated the virus, let us allow for another 2 lakh cases over the rest of the year. So, on this generous reading, if we are able to limit the total number of cases to 4 lakh instead of 10 lakh, we may have prevented 6 lakh new cases. Calculating at 4 per cent fatality among positive identified cases, this would mean 24,000 lives saved (16,000 deaths instead of 40,000 if we had 10 lakh cases). Say 50,000, if you wish to be very safe with this wild guess. That looks like very good news.

Also read: India lost more jobs due to coronavirus lockdown than US did during Depression

Cost of Lockdown

Let us now turn to the costs of the kind of lockdown imposed and now extended by the Modi government. The most visible faces of this lockdown without any notice or compensation are the 6.3 lakh migrant workers living in relief camps in or around the metropolitan centres. That number would go up if you include the lakhs of workers stranded at construction sites or too far away from any urban centre to be visible. Add to it the workers who are stranded in their own rented accommodation without income or food, unable to go back home. And then think of those who are very much inside their homes, but without income and possibly food. Nearly 12 crore persons had lost their livelihood in the first two weeks of Lockdown-1. On a conservative reading, this would affect one-third of the 25 crore households in India.

Turning to the less visible crisis in rural areas, there is a small proportion of poor who do not have a ration card for no fault of theirs: the official cap on the number of ration cards has not been revised for 10 years, new names have not been added, wrong deletions have taken place or it’s a nomadic or migratory family. Many reports suggest that lockdown has pushed many of these families to the verge of starvation. There have been many reports of looting of food trucks, situations resembling a food riot, besides migrants’ protest in Bandra and Surat. Not to put too fine a point on it, years of gains of people moving out of poverty could be wiped out in a few weeks. The longer the lockdown, the larger this number.

It is not just livelihood. It is about lives. Put any number on the households that would have suddenly sunk into poverty and would be forced to spend less on nutrition and medical care. Let us be most conservative and put this figure at 1 crore households — comprising 5 crore persons. If this economic shock leads to additional mortality of 0.1 per cent, that would be 50,000 deaths, as much as the most generous estimate of lives saved due to lockdown.

Health experts call these ‘preventable’ deaths, which take place just because the family could not access or afford quality health care. Every year about 24 lakh deaths in India could be attributed to this. Even a 1 per cent increase in the proportion of those who cannot now afford quality healthcare due to effects of lockdown would mean additional 24,000 deaths; 2 per cent increase will push the figure to 48,000.

Look at this differently. According to the latest estimate of ‘Burden of Disease’ in India, every year we have 73,000 deaths directly due to malnutrition. Then there are the number of diseases closely related to poverty: Diarrhoea (believe it or not, 5.2 lakh deaths per year), tuberculosis (3.75 lakh), infant mortality (4.45 lakh), malaria (1.85 lakh). A sudden push to poverty is bound to accentuate malnutrition. Assuming that it leads to an increase in malnutrition deaths by 10 per cent and other directly poverty-related deaths by as little as 1 per cent, over the next two years, we are looking at 50,000 additional deaths induced by lockdown.

No matter which way you look at it, the lockdown might end up costing us as many, if not more, lives as it might save. The lives saved might be more visible, better off and elderly. The lives lost are bound to be poorer, younger and invisible. Once you add the impact on livelihoods, economy and society to this balance sheet, this kind of lockdown is increasingly indefensible.

Also read: India’s poorest states have a ‘triple’ burden. Will struggle in a full-blown Covid strike

A disaster waiting

The guidelines for Lockdown-2 provide for graded relaxation for some categories of economic activity. Opening of construction work and MNREGA after 20 April are welcome steps, as is the relaxation for all farming operations. But all this can come to a naught unless backed by a series of emergency relief measures.

The Modi government must immediately address the food crisis by universalising the Public Distribution Scheme and use the school Mid Day Meal infrastructure to arrange cooked food for the most needy families. The stranded migrant labourers must be provided special point-to-point trains or given food and cash to survive. This must be followed by MSP guarantee or compensation for the farmers, reverse GST for small business, waiver of interest on loans under moratorium and a grand nation-wide employment mission. Otherwise, we are looking at one of the biggest man-made disasters in our history.

The author is the national president of Swaraj India. Views are personal.

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  1. Total cases till now: 2.1 million
    Total deaths till now: 137 k
    Death % 6.48….provided no one lose his life from remaining 1.4 million active cases.
    Actual death % based closed cases 20.54. (Average based actual data).

    MR yadav using 4%…..Isn’t it tells the story that either he is not honest or not capable doing basic analysis. And publishing (by MR. Yadav) such baseless analysis without assessing the kind of chaos this will create is nothing but insane.

    Taking US as base number for spreading Chaos……doesn’t he know the role and differences in the demography?

    Just few question to MR. Yadav….
    A) what was the formula when we lost 15 million people in 2018 (Spanish flu 2018)? Specifically when our population was merely 31 crore. And
    B) why we lost more 30% (15 millions out of 50 million) of the total loss across the world.
    C) now we have 130 million …which means not only more population but because of density more vulnerable.

    So, if you are not capable of understanding even basic numbers then stop all this nonsense and apologise to the world for misguiding and creation chaos. And if you are doing this because of your hate then god bless you…I can just term this shameless.

  2. This view from a number cruncher is disappointing.

    Covid rises exponentially and in a short time will lead to high deaths, higher infection and unimaginable stress for a longer period of time not sure till when.

    Prevention is prerequisite now and this can be achieved through lockdown at the momen.

    With this in mind PDS has to be made accessible without chaos. In absence of centralized PDS onus would be on state government.

    Essential services can start in phased manner with different shift patterns and maintaining social distancing.

    Some kind of odd even phased movement, commercial activity keeping prevention and spread in mind.

    I still believe Indian Covid cases are underreported unlike US and European countries. So we are still at huge risk.

  3. If we apply this logic, why have lockdown at all? Even if we stretch our imagination and assume USA type spread, the loss of lives could not have crossed 50000. This number is not even one per cent of our total population. But this is a twisted logic. Death of 50000 persons is not a small thing, it would cause a havoc even in India. While this loss is almost a certainty had the pandemic been allowed run amok freely, the calculation of loss of life due standstill economy is just a speculation. Let us take the case of stranded migrant workers. How many of them have died so far due to hunger? Is there any reliable statistics? What is the extent of prevalence of corona amongst this migrant workers: Presumably, very negligible that can be taken care of in big cities such as Mumbai and Delhi. But what if this microscopic percentage goes to rural areas in North India in packed trains with no possibility of social distancing and this triggers community transmission there? It could be serious calamity that can create havoc in rural U.P. and rural Bihar, which simply doesn’t have medical infrastructure to deal with such type of calamity. The plight of these workers is understandable. But as of now there is no option but to keep them where they are.

  4. Can’t imagine a populist leader would naively cause this kind of suffering to it’s own people. Clearly shows that Modi does not possess the education or common sense to have single mindedly pursued such a disastrous course of action.

  5. Yogendra Yadav should leave politics and start future telling business as he seems to know every thing that have yet to occur.

  6. Is there a compulsion that you should write on every topic, even if you are not suitable for the same?

  7. Excellent professional write up. Urgent need to make wheels of economy move albeit at slow pace . Nation First .

  8. So make it your agenda that their should be COMPULSORY AND LEGALLY BINDING POPULATION CONTROL. To avoid such distress in future . OR STOP YOUR NAUTANKI .

  9. Lockdown is going to be a man made disaster. It is the duty of the Govt to ensure safety and security of the poor and needy. If it fails to do so, then compensation must be paid.

  10. Someone please file a PIL seeking compensation to the victims or families of the deceased due to lockdown. Due to such lockdown the rich and privileged will be saved from COVID-19 but the poor and underprivileged migrant workers are dying out of hunger and lack of other necessities. This is a clear discrimination by the Govt.

  11. At the outset Yadav writes he is against lockdown-2, and then compares the scenario with the Europe and the USA. For a person as intelligent and we hope well read, did he deliberately ignore the population density and size when he blithely makes the comparisions? From conservative estimates by many experts, about 20% of the population will get infected should the virus be given a free passage. And about 4 to 5% of these can be fatal. This translates to more than 100lak deaths.
    So being as irresponsible as always Mr.Yadav spins a tale using his not inconsiderable imagination, assuming imaginary figures and more imaginative calculations to arrive at figures which reflects his pessimistic position.

    • Agree with you. One addition. Given the free passage of virus not locking down or social distancing, and also given our medical infrastructure, the fatality in affected population could be as high as 10%, like Italy and Spain has seen. If 26 crore of people are affected, 10% of them is 2.6 crores (26 miiion for some who understand that way). People can survive with one time meal a day for many days. Economy can be revived, over the course of time. But a family member once lost, it is lost forever. And there are so many families where if their dependent member is gone, no package of economic revival will help. Life is important than livelihood in the first place and livelihood is also important to sustain life. People having one eyed vision of only economy will never realize the importance of human life.

  12. Any monkey with a keyboard can write “”feed the poor migrants”” as if we need Yogendar Yadav to feed us this cliches and pretend as if only he has a conscience and intelligence! Does writing this navel gazing tripe actually help even a SINGLE person get fed or sheltered ? This author is just another obstacle that is hindering the proper conduct of the lockdown and India’s fight against coronavirus – a fight to save potentially millions of Indian lives.

    The nonsensical whining and laments of the obvious fail to realise the simple truth that – the entire world is in the SAME situation – one of dwindling wages, hungry poor and suffering. THUS the disaster / pandemic classification!

    The oxymoronic idea that India should have “”planned better”” for a lockdown is the whining of demented people detached from reality as if countries were forewarned about the pandemic (which they weren’t – the WHO continuously refused to recommend the ban of foreign travel or even wearing masks !) because nations would plan NOT TO HAVE to enforce a lockdown – because nobody wants a lockdown! The idea that a “”lockdown could have been better planned”” is the refrain of the imbeciles who fail to realize that the lockdown itself is an emergency response due to a sudden danger – not a “”planned approach””.
    Further, NO NATION on earth can be said to have been “”ready”” or dealing with the Covid situation with full preparation – even small rich nations like Singapore, Hong Kong etc have struggled! Now, expecting a vast nation the size of India – the world’s largest single market, the world’s largest labor market and one of the world’s biggest agricultural nations to implement the lockdown of 1.3 billion people without pain and problems is the height of self-indulgent navel gazing and petulant whining.

    If anything we must take heart that despite such a great and calamitous event like a national lockdown for nearly 5 weeks – our nations is blessed with mechanisms, political leadership and a feeling of national purpose by the citizenry to so willingly sacrifice themselves for the greater good. Things are not easy – but then that’s why this is a national crisis. And no amount of back seat drivers and armchair PMs /CMs can understand the complexities and fine balance of governance.

    Armchair clowns like Yogender Yadav should put his money where his mouth is and DO SOMETHING – we don’t need words, we need deeds. So Shut up and DO somthing instead of whining!

    • Helo !!! little planning could have helped, knowing the magnitude of problem China our neighbouring country was going through. Arrangements for migrant workers to be sent back to their respective village, help for the poor ,hospitals and infrastructure revamped care for proffessionals
      Should have been the focus on the part of the Government Wise decisions is required otherwise the poor of our country will curse and die.

    • The second last Para of yours reminded me of Modi’s regular 8PM Show. People are following the lockdown not for some greater purpose but simply to save their asses. Most wealthy and even middle class have sacrificed nothing so farin real terms, in fact they are enjoying extended 4g internet subscription just like you. You don’t know anything about sacrifice Mazo. Foresight is what a leader must have. And Feku has anything but that. It’s the same way you proud men were barking during 50 days of NoteBandi. Ek patta to hila nahi or accha khasa economy ka satyanas kr diye haan UP election zordar jite. Even pappu called for the lock down on 12 th March. And given the exponential nature, had it happened, we would have figures still in 3 digits. 30 jan was the day of the first positive case identification in india. By then many developed countries had already started suffering. So the word “planning” is not something inapt. Any one would have done the same thing what Feku did, wouldn’t they? Similarly, it’s very easy to re-asses and judge the past (something you bhakts do on regular basis “Nehru”). But we need someone who can see what the future holds and act judiciously. Doing it earlier than most countries could have been called political leadership, not monkeying others.

  13. Online poll in Business Standard. Will the lockdown extension help bring down the number of new Covid 19 cases in the country ? Can’t say – 0.11%. Yes – 1.28%. No – 98.61%.

    • Let us not forget, all Chief Ministers, irrespective of their political affiliation, demanded extension of the lockdown. Many of them had already declared the extension in their respective states, even before Modi decided to extend the lockdown for the country as a whole.

    • Few intellectual readers of Business Standard cannot decide what a country leader should in crisis. If that would have been the case, it is just disastrous. The decision has to be collective and in this cases it was a collective decision of elected representatives of each state and with the central leadership providing guidance. For the fist time in India after many long years, political parties with different ideologies fights the cause unitedly, The only opposition could be from those parties who are defunct both in centre and state levels.

    • The Business Standard” name itself says the results of the polls, in whose favour will it go.

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