The toss-up between life and livelihood

PT Jyothi Datta | Updated on June 18, 2020

Even though there are many —flawed — arguments for choosing the latter, the burden of the lives lost may be too heavy to carry

Having to choose between life and livelihood is a grim situation for a country to be in. It’s however a question that needs to be squarely posed, with the country in various stages of ‘unlocking’ itself. At a time when cases and deaths are climbing disconcertingly, we must choose to protect life.

Governments can take care of livelihood concerns by getting food and money across to people, while they continue with a lockdown and use that time to add health facilities to brace for the rising tide of Covid-19 cases. It is important to stem that tide because it will hit at the heart of both life and livelihood.

The worry comes from the fact that India, at 3.3 lakh cases, has in the last few weeks moved to the fourth place in terms of the number of total Covid-19 cases reported to the World Health Organization (up to June 15), behind the US (at 20 lakh cases) and Brazil ( 8.5 lakh).

Globally, the number of Covid cases is shy of 80 lakh and the number of deaths has crossed 4.3 lakh. “It took more than two months for the first 1,00,000 cases to be reported. For the past two weeks, more than 1,00,000 new cases have been reported almost every single day,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Slow read that to let it sink in — in the last two weeks, more than one lakh new cases have been reported globally almost every single day. These are chilling numbers that seem to be invisible to authorities, as cities across continents go about opening up beaches and cafes.

With China and New Zealand beginning to report new cases, the WHO has cautioned on a resurgence of the infection.

It is against this backdrop that India lifts its lockdown, scrambling to put together support facilities to tackle increasing cases and, possibly, deaths as well.

But many arguments being put forth to open up are flawed. While it’s inevitable that cases will rise, as flights and trains recommence, it is flawed to explain away the concern saying a large number of Covid-positive people would pull through unscathed and only those with co-morbidities (diabetes, hypertension, etc) and the elderly are at risk.

India is home to the second-largest number of people with diabetes and is home to a large silver-haired population. In fact, doctors now also worry about long-term lung damage in people recovering from Covid.

The other number we many take comfort from is the doubling rate of cases, which again is a misconception. It’s a given that the rate of doubling would decrease as the base or the number of cases increases.

Instead, the number that experts are keeping an eye on is that of mortality, and despite allegations of their being misreported, it still gives an idea of the direction that the infection is taking. India has reported over 9,500 deaths, way fewer than countries like the US, Brazil, the UK, Spain, Mexico and France, for instance. But beyond the number, every death involves a small universe of people affected by that grief. And that makes it significant.

As the country looks to lift the lockdown, it needs to be graded and guarded so people don’t violate the rules and add to the over-burdened healthcare system with its finite resources of hospital beds, testing facilities and healthcare staff.

And these decisions matter, because years on, when people look back on whether we over-reacted or behaved responsibly in the face of a pandemic, it’s better to not have the burden of Covid deaths on our conscience, simply because we were in a hurry to lift the lockdown.

Published on June 17, 2020

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