As herd immunity transitions and the world’s largest mass vaccinations have begun, it will be important to understand how drastically the pandemic has changed the lives of Indians. Image Credit: Shutterstock
The nature of “Black Swan” events is that they accelerate historical processes. We witnessed this first hand last year, when the great global health crisis of 2020 – the Covid-19 pandemic – spread like wildfire and left a global economic downturn. The novel coronavirus triggered India’s fourth recession since independence and the first since its liberalization.
Pandemic survival has made one thing clear: we still have a long way to go before we can thrive in the post-pandemic period. What about thriving beyond that? The fastest vaccine ever made became a reality last quarter, so most of us are likely alive to live freely in a world that doesn’t require social distancing. As herd immunity transitions and the world’s largest mass vaccinations have begun, it will be important to understand how drastically the pandemic has changed the lives of Indians and how it will affect our economy in the years to come.
I want to decipher this influence from three crucial lenses – as a country, as an individual and as a human race.
Intrinsic changes in the world after the pandemic
In many ways there is no going back to the world we lived in before.
As a country, much like many other countries, India’s economic activity stalled, posting a record 23.9 percent GDP decline between April and June 2020. The 2020 pandemic’s financial contagion spread as quickly as the virus itself, creating an inseparable link between health and economic progress. 11 million cases, 10.7 million recoveries, and a full year later (albeit in small steps), many of the organized sectors are moving towards a K-shaped recovery in the economic spectrum.
However, the disorganized sector is always on the wrong side of the spectrum. The government has so far been helping small businesses get access to credit lines, modernize infrastructure, provide tax breaks, etc. More should be done for them as a nation to survive any cash flow problems caused by the second wave of credit lines inevitable are virus that we see in many parts of the country. Addressing some of the main issues such as food security, malnutrition, poverty, jobs in the rural economy, ensuring safe migration routes, social security and promoting the formalization of the informal economy need to be prioritized.
As individuals, we have spent much of our daily lives in isolation over the past year. With fear of contagion and government lockdowns, “contactless” and “digital” became a lifestyle almost overnight. In our private lives, we either spent too much time away from families or were too overwhelmed with household chores. Social isolation, financial difficulties, inability to access health services in non-covid conditions, and layoffs have played a role in the lives of millions of Indians. Women in particular have borne the brunt of job loss by taking on extra chores at home and taking care of children who have not been to school for a full school year.
In this sense, our expectations of healthcare as part of humanity have also changed. The sector, which has always been underfunded, insular and not democratic, is in the spotlight today. Due to the pandemic, home diagnostics and online consultations have seen a positive increase as health care access is as close to home as possible. For the first time on a political level, India’s trade union budget increased its spending on health care by an unprecedented 137 percent year over year, recognizing health and wellbeing as one of the six most important pillars on which the Indian economy is built today.
Investing in Healthcare for a Speedy Recovery
While mass vaccination and resistance to the virus with herd immunity are good, the country’s masses cannot rest safely just yet. For one thing, the higher costs of Covid-19-oriented care have and will affect multiple households and their financial stability. This is an important hurdle for a quick recovery. Beyond finances, the long-term mental effects of the social isolation people face across generations have also been critical in driving economic progress.
Covid-19 was neither the first nor the last epidemic or pandemic for humanity. H1N1 in 2009, MERS in 2012, Ebola in 2013, to name a few, have awakened many nations to their needs for long-term, data-driven and well-directed approaches. India (or the world) cannot afford to impose lengthy bans every time a new strain of the virus hits the city. We cannot roll the Darwinian dice for herd immunity either, as this also comes with a high cost of human capital. Perhaps the biggest change is that holistic health care – both mental and physical – is now viewed by government and citizens as an investment rather than a cost.
The sword of Damocles of K-shaped recovery needs to translate into a hockey stick recovery with a rapidly increasing focus on health care. Healthier children with better access to health care lead to better performance in schools and colleges. Healthier adults mean less working hours and more productivity – essentially creating a positive cycle of continued economic growth. It is therefore safe to say that health care is a consistent imperative as the growth map for the future is being drawn up at both the political and individual levels.
The author is the managing director of Metropolis Healthcare Limited
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