SPREAD: With the lockdown in London the spread of coronavirus fell sharply as in other countries like Germany and the US. In contrast Covid-19 continues to increase rapidly inspite of the 60 day long country wide strict lockdown
BY RAJAN NARAYAN
AND a few stray thoughts for yet another Saturday. For a Saturday following the week when the lockdown did not seem to be as effective in India as in other countries. For a Saturday following the week when there was massive evacuation of migrant workers. For the week following the week when development was severely affected due to Covid-19. For the week following the week when globalization has been reversed by the coronavirus. For a Saturday following the week when Covid-19 has proved to be a great social equalizer. For a Saturday following the week when there was panic in Goa over local migrant workers wanting to go back to their native villages.
not so effective
AND a few stray thoughts on how the coronavirus pandemic lockdown has been relatively ineffective in India compared to other countries. In most developed countries, within two weeks to a month, the number of coronavirus cases started falling sharply. In the case of India though there has been a six week lockdown starting on March 22 to May 7 the coronavirus curve has not flattened. In most Western countries the curve has not only flattened but dipped.In sharp contrast in India the number of cases continue to shoot up. Which would suggest that lockdown has not been an effective solution in containing the coronavirus as far as India is concerned. This could be due to two major reasons. The primary reason why the nation-wide lockdown has been less effective than expected is the size of the country and the density of the population. The logic behind the lockdown was to ensure that there would be at least a meter of physical distance between individuals. Virtually 80% of India lives in slums where on an average ten people occupy a small hut. There is not enough space in the accommodation to maintain even six inches of distance.
The other reason why the lockdown has not been effective is the social habits of our people. In the West, particularly in countries like the UK, there is a tradition of courtesy and politeness. Carrying handkerchiefs and sneezing into it is the norm. In contrast, we in India have no inhibitions sneezing or coughing on to our neighbor’s face. There is also the paan and tobacco chewing habit which involves spitting out and contributing to the spread of infections. So much so even if the space within which a group of individuals are confined is small, it will not provide an escape from catching the infection. We also tend to believe too much importance has been given to the sneezing in the spread of the infection. Which is why the entire country hides behind their masks of every shape and form, looking more like bandits.
HOW IT SPREADS?
THE truth about the spread of Covid-19 is that it spreads not just directly between people but also through objects handled by suspected Covid-19 patients. For instance, if droplets have fallen on your mobile phone which was lying close to that of the carrier of the infection and which you touched, or the knobs or handles of the door, you can get infected.
In many of our slums there is just one common toilet for may be 25 people. So much so every time the toilet is opened and closed you are at risk of being infected. In the West they use toilet paper and there is less direct contact between carrier and a suspected patient. Lockdowns alone will always be ineffective in India unless they are accompanied by a mass hygiene movement. Believe it or not but a large part of migrant workers supplied with hand sanitizers end up drinking them – because of the high alcoholic content of sanitizers! Though doctors keep telling you to wash you hands with soup and water as often as possible many homes have no water.
AND a few stray thoughts on the massive evacuation of migrant workers all over the country. Hundreds of crores are being spent on transporting migrants by bus and train from one end of the country to the other. This is primarily because of uneven development in the country. There are large states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, collectively called the “bimaru’ states which depend primarily on agriculture. Over the years agriculture became mechanized instead of depending entirely on labor. So the landless labor who could not find a job thanks to the arrival of tractors and combined harversters, moved out to the more industrialized parts of the country like Maharashtra, West Bengal, Karnataka for jobs. But many states like Karnataka and Goa have become dependent on the migrants. In Karnataka half a dozen trains were ready to take the migrants back home. But the contractors lobby led by the Chief Minister Yeddhurappa cancelled the trains and locked up the migrants in a big field. They wanted the migrants to stay back as construction had resumed and would be badly affected if the migrants went back.
The largest number of migrants are to be found in the metropolitan cities of Mumbai, Kolkotta, Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and the second-tiered places include Pune, Indore, Nasik. Since the landless labor did not have any specific skills they had to do shop floor jobs in the huge factories that have come up in cities like Pune and Nasik which are the automobile hubs of the country. The big factories subcontracted ancillary jobs to smaller units using contract labor. The overwhelming majority of migrant workers are on daily wages.
The other major source of employment for the landless labor is the construction industry. As urbanization spread in metropolitan cities more and more migrant labor flocked to them for jobs. Construction is a great favorite with migrant labor for here they can get jobs for the entire family. Men do the more skilled jobs of masons while women carry stones and other material at the construction sites. The people of the predominantly agricultural states have no choice but to migrate if there is a drought or a flood in their home states. Since landless labor works mostly during harvesting time they have to supplement their income during the rest of the year. There are some states like Kerala and our own Goa where the locals do not like to do blue colored jobs. They might sweep and mop the floors at Heathrow Airport or in the Gulf but not in their own home towns. Which is why states like Kerala and Goa have virtually been taken over by migrants from other states, including distant parts of the country such as North East and even Nepal, the only Hindu country. When there is a calamity like the coronavirus the migrants have no choice but to go back to their gaon or home town. Primarily because unlike in the Westernized countries there is no social security.
In the UK if you take up a job legal or not, 20% is cut for social security benefits. You don’t have to spend on healthcare as the National Health Service takes care of it. Indeed, those who pay social security tax are even provided with housing in the UK. Similarly, in the US also there are extensive social security benefits, the best of which is that you get 70% of the salary you last earned if you lose your job. In the case of India if you don’t work you don’t get paid. If you don’t get paid, you have no money to eat. The migrant labor which is packed into sheds and rented accommodation have no place to stay if they don’t pay their rent. Back home they may be worse off salary wise. But at least they are assured of a roof over their head and some minimal food to eat. Though when migrants lose their jobs it also affects their relatives back home. Part of the reason why migrants move out is that wages in cities are much higher than back in their village. It is the money orders that the urban migrants send which sustain their rural counterparts.
AND a few stray thoughts on how Covid-19 has destroyed the economy. It is a vicious cycle which the lockdown is primarily responsible for. In the anxiety to ensure physical distance not just schools and colleges but factories have been shut down. To prevent the spread of the treacherous infection all transport has been disrupted. So much so raw materials cannot reach factories and finished products cannot reach consumers. Since the consumer in any case is locked up the volume of purchasers comes down very sharply. To provide an example, even before Covid-19 the demand for automobiles including four-wheelers and two-wheelers had come down steeply.
This has resulted in the closure of several major auto plants. The automobile factories depend on ancillary units to make parts such as tyres, for instance. So there is a spinoff effect and the worse affected are the medium and small industries which supply the ancillary parts and pay daily wages. In the month of March for instance the Maruti factory which produces 10 lakh vehicles a month for domestic consumption did not produce a single car. When people stop using cars the demand for petrol goes down. This in turn affects the massive petroleum industry which keeps the wheels of the country moving. Transport is the most important element in the development of an economy. But the long lockdown virtually shut off various parts of the country from each other. With all transport including buses, trains and aircraft at standstill how can the economy function.With no income from daily wages there is no consumer demand. When there is no demand people stop producing goods. If there is no production there are no jobs. So the vicious cycle is complete and our Prime Minister who was boasting of converting India into a five trillion dollar industry, bigger than China and the United States, is squabbling with Sonia Gandhi about who will pay for the migrant labor returning to their native villages and towns. But apparently the country still has so much money that it is repatriating lakhs of stranded non-resident Indians from all parts of the world. Not to mention seafarers stranded in the Lakshadweep Islands and ocean liners all over the world from the Bahamas to the Antarctica.
AND a few stray thoughts on how the coronavirus has reversed globalization. Before the pandemic there was greater integration between the East and the West. Even during the peak of the epidemic Reliance sold five percent of its shares in Reliance Jio to Facebook. Reliance Jio is the largest provider of space on the social network. While Facebook is the crux of social media. Similarly, the most expensive iphone in the world, the Apple iphone, is being assembled in China which has the lowest wages combined with a large pool of technically skilled employees.
India is one of the largest manufacturers of generic drugs, including the drugs desperately needed to fight the coronavirus pandemic. But they cannot be exported because of the lockdown of aircraft. Tourism which has been the mainstay of Goa is completely dead with charter tourists who came to Goa at the end of the season in March left stranded and are just being evacuated back to their respective countries. Every country is afraid of being infected by the coronavirus. So much so even if you get back to your own country you have to spend 14 days in quarantine, after which when you go home finally you have to spend another 14 days at home before stepping out of doors.
We used to boast of growing integration with the social network and the Internet making redundant even travel. Which ironically came true with people spending more time on video conferencing than personal meetings. Countries are now building walls against each other to keep not just the migrant but the coronavirus out. Unfortunately for Donald Trump the wall he wanted to build between US and Mexico will not keep the coronavirus out.
AND a last stray thought for another Saturday. The greatest tragedy of Covid-19 is that the cultural world seems to have collapsed. There are no movies in any language to watch on the big screen out of fear of coronavirus. There are no concerts you can listen to except on your bloody dumb phone. There are no orchestras or plays that you can enjoy. For sports lovers the biggest blow is that you cannot watch any sports event life. The Wimbledon, the most important event in the Tennis calendar has been cancelled. The Indian Premier League which was the richest sport in the world has been cancelled. The World Cup Football which has more fans in India than the UK has stopped. There is a fear that the greatest sporting event in the world, Olympics, to be held in Tokyo, will be indefinitely postponed. The only games you can play are mobile games like Ludo and PubG! Or you can go back to playing Snakes & Ladders or Teen Pati.