Covid-19 is here and it is slowly settling in for the long haul. Humanity and life as we know it is at stake. What brought us here though? I feel it was abject greed and materialism that has landed us in this situation where we are living in fear of an unknown future. There are different theories about how the virus made the jump from animals to humans. One theory is that it originated in an unhygenic wet market in China. The question to ponder upon is “why in this age and time are wet markets still a thing?”. Poverty if you ask me, illiteracy and need. A wet market could have been the place where it happened but poverty is the source. An unhygienic market where animals are brought for live slaughter points towards a population that is more concerned about the lower cost of meat and not so much about how that meat is produced. Somebody enquire if the worlds costliest beef steaks the olive wagyu were being sold at this market, chances are that it was not. This was a market for the average middle class or poor buyer. Blaming the Chinese is easy what is difficult is to understand that the Chinese were just fulfilling a need. Corporates and states in their mad rush to improve bottom lines have moved operations to China and other such countries which have the population dividend in place. However they have never bothered about the actual population that lives there. Cost cutting was the end objective poverty was the price. The argument would be that had these companies not opened their factories in these Godforsaken places the people here would have starved anyway. Correct, however also consider the insignificant bit that you omitted in your argument, population at these cities would not have exploded the way it has had there been no no factories there. People would have been careful about increasing family sizes and markets like the one where Covid-19 made the jump would have been either absent or less crowded. Supervisors and inspectors would’ve had more space and time to ensure hygiene.
Progress and profit needs to be a lot more responsible and consider all stake holders not just the business owners and end consumers. Everyone likes a cheaper iPhone so yes consumers are responsible as well for this mad rush to reduce the cost of production. Greed, all round greed, is why we are where we are today. Cities have mushroomed and become rapidly overpopulated around factories. It has gotten so bad that now we are at a point where lakes within cities, like Bangaluru, spontaneously burst into flames because of the pollutants that this population routinely discharges into the same lakes which are supposed to be sources of drinking water. Cities are at the brink of imploding because of this greed, just years and months away from being abandoned because the borewells have hit rock bottom and water is all but finished. The greed though continues unabated with tone deaf politicians building jogging tracks to encircle a previous jogging track which was previously built to encircle an original jogging track… thereby reducing surface area for groundwater recharging (true story I just came back from one of these tracks. Which of the three concentric ones it was I don’t quite remember but possibly the third latest and greatest ones). The politician does it because in most cases he is uneducated and short sighted with votes being his only end game. Poverty, greed and gullibility… potent mix.
Today we are trying to find solutions to the Covid-19 situation. Everyone agrees that maximum testing, isolation and social distancing is the only way to handle this problem. We need to try and buy the scientists more time for developing a reliable vaccine that the world needs to handle this virus. What we are missing out on is the cost of isolation and social distancing for the masses.
Multitudes of citizens in India are daily wage earners. A day of not going to work for these people means that their children will sleep on an empty stomach that night. Telling these people that today you have to not go to work and not just today but also for the next fourteen days at least there is a complete moratorium on movement is not on. That is as good as telling them that they along with their families have been selected to die for humanity. For such people it doesn’t really make a difference if they are dying because of hunger or dying because of Covid-19. In the larger scheme of things they might as well take their chances and go out to try and earn a living to arrange tonight’s meal for the kids. These are poor people they are not malicious or greedy. These people are not worried about their shares tanking by over twenty percent in two weeks. They just need enough for today, Sunday will manage itself when it arrives lets handle Thursday first.
Social distancing in a country like ours is a pipe dream if we consider this population of daily wage earners, small business owners, shopkeepers and such. Without a vaccine this virus is not going away. Given the way it propagates and vastness of our population we are looking at nothing less than twenty percent of the population getting infected by the time we reach a definitive vaccine. At our population levels we are looking at roughly two hundred and sixty million infected people. Also like pneumonia the side effects of these infections will be known only after six to eight months when people develop Asthma or other respiratory issues. This we know could happen because as of now the focus has only been on recovery and not enough time has passed since the first patients were cured. So effectively we are looking at five point two million dead and roughly two hundred and fifty five million badly affected in the long term.
This is assuming social distancing is not implemented strictly. This estimate is based upon the fact that only highly symptomatic individuals are being tested right now in India, we are conducting roughly ninety tests a day, every day the detected count is increasing by an average of nineteen cases per day (ten days since first case was detected and today there are hundred and ninety one cases), two percent of the infected-detected are passing away (four people have passed away out of one hundred and ninety one detected cases). If each detected case is infecting just ten other people before the test centers finally relent and test this person and then these ten persons are left undetected for a further ten days essentially my five million deaths scenario is probably a best case scenario. Testing needs to increase exponentially, we need to find everyone who is infected for isolation and cure. Statistics here
The reply one would get would be something on the lines of “India is a poor country, we have just a hundred thousand test kits, how can we completely lock down the population of one point three billion people?”. These are extraordinary times, these are unprecedented times. We need to pull out all the stops this is what we saved for all these years. Saving five million people calls for a radical shift in strategy and psyche. We need money for the tests, we need money for the social distancing to work. That is the starting point. Testing is easy it is just a matter of producing more test kits and adding more manpower to the testing infrastructure. Money will easily solve this problem. The social distancing issue is rather difficult in our nation. How do we ensure that the poor daily wager stays at home? After all, he does not have a work from home option. Heck why just blame the poor daily wager even companies in retail, production, hospitality industry and others will start laying off employees as demand falls off and people stay away from contact points. Airlines have already started reducing pay. Work from home is a limited option for a very small sliver of the workforce maybe just around twenty percent. The rest need to be physically present and interacting.
Money is the answer. Pay everyone a stay at home allowance. Deliver daily needs to the doorsteps of every citizen utilizing the PDS and highly well developed AADHAR verification system. Ensure there is no reason for people to leave their homes except emergencies. Ensure hundred percent social distancing. Here we circle back to Greed the big bad monster that is the actual virus we all need to destroy. A Government is only capable of so much, citizens have to rise up to the occasion for the rest. Money for this humungous effort has to come out of the pockets of the religious leaders, the temples and mosques and churches and gurudwaras, corporate houses and HNIs. All these years they have accumulated piles and piles of cash. Religious organizations have paid zero tax on all these earnings and in all probability almost all of the money they have received from the people is locked away in high yield investments. Take out that money and use it now. Fund the testing, fund the stay at home allowances, fund the daily needs delivery. Spend all the cash that has been donated over all the years at your institutions to save the country from at least fifty lakh deaths and many more debilitated. Do not worry about the money it will come back to you multiple times over. A poor person may be poor financially today but when this virus is gone this same poor person will everyday, for the rest of his live, come to your donation box and drop off part of his days wages as a security deposit for next time. Within six months you would have recovered the money. The bigger thing is that all religion would have gained true faith. Today people are looking more towards a scientific miracle and less towards religion for the solution. Tomorrow they will know that come what may my religion will save me. Think of the rich dividends this philanthropy in the time of flu can bring. Make religion great again. People like Sri Sri and Jaggi Vasudev can take the lead in this mobilization. Thereby forever dispelling the distrust that a majority of the population has towards Godmen.
In fact the government does not even need to get involved in this. There are huge religious establishments with fifty thousand footfalls all over our country at every fifty kilometers apart (maybe less). Doesn’t matter which religion they belong to they all get donations that are upwards of a few crores every single day (at just two hundred rupees per devotee that’s one crore per day even after removing costs that’s at least seventy five lakhs a day in savings). If each such large establishment were to adopt the area within a twentyfive kilometer radius and undertake the stay at home allowance and daily needs delivery service we could successfully keep people indoors. This needs to happen for maybe just three months. You’ve earned seventy five lakhs per day for seventy two plus years, spending just a fraction of that amount now in three months would barely make a dent. Some would say but we already run welfare schemes to which all I can say is “can’t really dispute that fact however this is between you and your bankers and your maker the one that you profess to love so much, be truthful”
Question is will we all collectively give up greed and embrace humanity or are we willing to let fifty lakh die while we sit around twiddling our thumbs waiting for someone else to do it first. Kerala in this respect has been a pioneer. They have shown how it can be done right. The mid-day meal scheme for instance has not been halted even though schools are closed. The meals are being delivered to the homes of the students. Point being that social isolation need not be a burden on the parents of these children. They should still get their meals free of cost just like they were getting them when school was in session. It can be done we just need the will to do it. Greed needs to be defeated because otherwise humanity loses.