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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 17 New Delhi, April 11, 2020

Covid-19 and The Road Ahead

Saturday 11 April 2020, by Bharat Dogra

Suddenly the agenda of India as well as other countries has changed and the biggest focus just now is to minimizing the damage from Covid-19. It is equally clear that for this we need a balanced strategy based mainly on social distancing, the three steps of ‘screening, testing, treatment’ and extensive efforts to increase the production and availability of essential equipment with special emphasis on ventilators and personal protective equipment ( not just for medical personnel but also for sanitation workers). The government is doing all this of course but the scale of the efforts is much less than what is needed.

Secondly, in the course of these steps particularly social distancing and lockdown, a huge humanitarian crisis has arisen which could have been reduced substantially, even if not entirely avoided, by more careful planning. It is equally important to now proceed very carefully so that this humanitarian crisis does not escalate further. Much more needs to be done than what is being done at present, and this needs to be done with greater sensitivity.

Apart from adding to the relief measures announced already, which are not adequate, the Union government needs to strengthen the hands and financial capacity of the state governments to provide much-needed care and relief to people, particularly the most vulnerable groups.

As this crisis has arisen during the harvest season, the government has to be make special preparations this year to ensure that harvest work can be completed properly. An innovative approach would be to give advance payment to farmers for a part of their harvested and to-be-harvested crop, say about one-fourth of the crop, on the condition that farmers in turn use a part of this advance payment to pay fair and prompt wages to workers. This part of the crop should then be reserved for meeting the local village’s needs of rations, free grains and pulses promised in the relief package, nutrition schemes etc.

The present crisis has exposed the serious flaws and shortcoming in our health system as well as in the precarious nature of the livelihood support of a very large number of people, particularly migrant workers and in fact most unorganized sector workers. Even if governance in the crisis period had been ideal, the weaknesses and problems which have persisted for so many years without receiving priority attention would have led to a lot of distress, hence there is clearly need for wider changes in our economy and polity in particular with special emphasis on improving health, reducing poverty and strengthening the livelihood base and social security of people.
We really need to get our priorities right.

The writer is a freelance journalist who has been involved with several social movements.

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