Patralekha Chatterjee | Don’t Treat the Pandemic Like Yesterday’s History, Yet
The Covid-19 pandemic is no longer an unavoidable topic. This is partly because of the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. The deaths and devastation in the war zone and the ripple effect of invasion in other countries, including India, ousted many numbers from the front pages of television and newspapers in the hours of great listening. But it’s also partly because many believe the pandemic is finally entering its final stages.
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak a global pandemic. Two years later, scientists are cautiously optimistic. Many countries speak in terms of “living with Covid 19”. However, millions of people around the world are still unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated. As long as this is the case, the virus can circulate and there can potentially be new, unpredictable variants.
In India, daily Covid-19 cases are down. At the start of this week, there were 4,362 new infections and 66 new deaths in 24 hours, bringing the total number of Covid deaths to 515,210 on the morning of March 8. More than 75% of over-15s in the country have now received two doses. This greatly reduces the likelihood of death or being seriously injured. Of course, we also have to remember that Omicron arrived last year just as the endgame excitement was building. This time around, many of us are fully vaccinated and a bit more relaxed.
but here’s the catch. Just because the pandemic is no longer in the headlines doesn’t mean it’s yesterday’s story.
Those ravaged by Covid-19 may be free from the virus but they have not fully recovered. We must not hide their continuing distress.
Today we know about the condition called “Long Covid”, but we don’t really know much about its long-term complications. The virus has affected different people in different ways. Many friends who caught the virus months ago are still struggling with fatigue, weakness and other health issues. Many have been forced to dip into their savings to pay for hospitalization and other medical bills during the pandemic. Many are deeply in debt at a time when their incomes have stagnated or fallen.
If that’s the lot of the middle class, imagine what the poor are going through. The pandemic has affected everyone, but not in the same way. In a country where the vast majority are workers in the informal sector, the situation has been particularly grim for those at the bottom of the socio-economic food chain in a slowing economy.
Recent rapid surveys by civil society organizations suggest that India’s poor, especially those in cities, have cut their food budgets sharply. It not only affects adults but also children.
Hunger Watch 2, a survey commissioned by India’s Right to Food Campaign and the Center for Equity Studies between December 2021 and January 2022, found that 66% of the 6,500 respondents in 14 states who were interviewed had experienced a drop in their income while compared to the pre-pandemic period. And for many, it was a steep fall.
According to the survey, aimed at assessing the economic distress of marginalized strata following the second wave, 41% said the nutritional quality of their diets had deteriorated from pre-pandemic levels. This proportion was higher among urban than rural households.
“What should I cook? We had no gas. So I picked up stones and sticks and survived khichdi for two months,” one family told researchers.
“Our condition has not changed much since that time. Sometimes there is food and other times there is no food. My husband does whatever work is available,” one said. of respondents. For this family, any kind of vegetable is now a privilege. “We have it once every 5-7 days, that too without onions. We just mix it in khichdi and eat it.
Another survey conducted by the Protsahan India Foundation, a Delhi-based NGO, between December 2021 and January 2022 among the city’s slum communities revealed that many girls over the age of 18 are pushed into marriage after completing the class 12.
Their parents say they can no longer afford to spend money on education.
The other big problem is the lack of social protection for young children. Many small factories that provided work for slum dwellers have closed. Those that are still operational are unable to provide sufficient work or regular payments to their employees. Families were in great economic distress and forced to take out loans just to survive. Weekend closures earlier this year also affected small traders who make a living selling wristbands, clothes, slippers and the like.
Customers are coming back, but slowly. Almost every store owner I’ve spoken to in recent days says demand is nowhere near where it was before the pandemic.
It will take a long time to fully grasp the profound impact of the pandemic on Indian children. Recent research from Save the Children shows that only a third (33%) of girls in India took online lessons during the Covid-19 lockdown, compared to 39% of boys.
What does this mean for progress in addressing gender inequalities in education and are the achievements of the past decades in danger of being reversed?
A majority of adolescent girls in urban slums have been deprived of basic health and education services compared to boys during the pandemic, the Save the Children Wings 2022 report notes.
These civil society surveys only provide a snapshot of the footprint of Covid-19 across India, especially on vulnerable communities.
With food inflation and the likelihood of a spike in oil prices in the coming days, the situation will get worse before it gets better. One area we need to follow in the next few days is mental health. We may never truly know the scale of the mental health crisis India is facing as a result of Covid-19, but it is worth acknowledging the seriousness of the situation that existed even in the pre times. -pandemic. According to India’s National Mental Health Survey 2015-2016, about 10% of adults in the country meet the diagnostic criteria for a mental health condition. The prevalence of mental morbidity was found to be high in Indian urban metros.
How much worse are things now? We don’t really know.
There may not be desperate calls for oxygen cylinders and ventilators of the type we saw in the second wave of Covid-19. But the story of the pandemic is far from over. We must follow its long shadow over all spheres of our lives.