Lockdown versus Lockout | The Background

Saturday, October 24, 2020

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Lockdown versus Lockout

Diptendu Sarkar

The entire world is trembling with the fear of the virus called COVID-19. The origin of SARS-CoV-2 seems well fixed in public mind: in late 2019 at the world-famous Huanan seafood market in Wuhan, China was infected with a virus from an animal and killed more than 4,000 people.

Initially, it was taken as a local viral infectious disease by the medical personnel of the world. Since late January, the virus began spreading beyond the Chinese border and found infected people in Japan, South Korea and Thailand in Asia and later in the European continent through Italy. That virus, which causes respiratory illness, has spread to at least 185 countries and territories on six continents, infecting more than 1800,000 people and killing more than 1 lakh people. After analysing its intensity of spreading through vast geographical region and its power of wrecking havoc, it was marked as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). This viral disease mainly spread directly through the contact with the infected people with others. Experts suggest isolating the affected people with the mass to stop its quick spread in other areas of the world.

Most countries of the world had accepted the process of “lock down” process, through which they are completely isolated from the rest of the world and at the same time governments asked their citizens to maintain social distancing just to stop the spread of the virus among them. Except essential services, all kinds of works relating to business and production have stopped for indefinite period.

A group of social historians and economists, meanwhile, have raised their voice expressing anguish. Their contention is putting millions of people out of work through lock-down the affected countries are smashing economies because this viral flu would not affect them to a large extent. But why are they going against the generalised accepted process of lock-down method?

Presently, a great number of people are affected by COVID-19 and its terrifying nature is quite alarming.  But these social scientists raised a question. They pointed out and it’s already clear through research of Oxford and Imperial College of London that total number affected people by COVID-19 are not properly disclosed by any country yet. Their research revealed that most of the affected nation’s affected populations are higher than it reported by the government agency to the World Health Organisation. In support of their the argument, they placed the data of China where the latest figures from China show that asymptomatic Covid-19 cases were not included in the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and 
 emergency chief in Italy says the real figure of COVID 19 cases in Italy is 10 times higher than confirmed cases and their study also claims up to half the population of Britain may already have had COVID- 19 but the government declared less. So social scientists say if we accept the claim of the Oxford study the real mortality rate of COVID-19 is far lower than for cases confirmed by WHO: 10 times lower in the case of Italy (which is an outlier), perhaps even as low as one-thousandth of one per cent in the case of Britain, and that the study also showed 80-90% of deaths from COVID-19 are people aged over 65 with pre-existing health abnormalities.  If that study is true its means that the mortality rate for the healthy working-age population fewer than 65 is negligible. So imposing self-isolation measures by most of the nations of the world are destroying their own economy is maybe not a great idea for the world economy also.

In effect of that, 90 per cent production of different goods and services are halted throughout the world. As those industries already stopped their production so they are later unable to offer proper pay packets to their managerial or higher positioning stuff or paying properly towards their labourers.  Obviously, most of the industry around the world will accept the easiest way of layoff their most of the man powers to swim out from their forthcoming deep recession. This will bring unprecedented huge unemployment and socio-economic disparity around the globe. But it’s true before coming out of COVID-19 world economic picture was not a shining one, so most of the developed and developing nations were passing through the economic recession. So this might give a great chance to those economic dictators (Corporate honchos) to come out from their depression. But it will never bring fruits to any nation in the long run as those measures will halt the smooth sailing of the economic wheel of the world which more catastrophic for humanity.

But the question will arise what is the perfect way to tackle both the COVID-19 and the economy? The answer might be the way how the Scandinavians had managed their countries.

Iceland’s chief epidemiologist Thorolfur Guðnason said: “The other half displays very moderate cold-like symptoms…” “…half of those who tested positive are non-symptomatic,” …. We will not opt for the complete country lockdown to slower our economic growth but on the other hand we will never accept the pandemic spread inside our country recklessly. So I will suggest our government at first notice the affect persons under COVID-19, then isolated them and treat them at the cost of the nation but who yet not shows any the symptom of COVID-19 never barred them for work”. Which is as similar to the WHO suggested method of: Test-Isolate-Test process.

Andrew Cuomo, the Governor of New York State, echoed the same in a recent press conference… “Isolate people but really isolate vulnerable people. Don’t isolate everyone because some people, most people, are not vulnerable to it.” But it’s too hard to make it applicable in the densely populated countries like India and China and where the state-run medical facility is not sufficient as Europe or USA. But it’s also shocking truth to country like India. Here, most of the labour forces depend on unorganised sectors and the main factor of the economy is the vast middle-class population, who are mostly employed under the private sectors. So, complete lockdown is suicidal for the economy. The World Bank in a recent report predicted if lockdown continues in India up till June around 135 million people will be jobless.

 In India ,migrant labourers throng back to their home in hordes after the lockdown announcement. 

Last week, I talked to Patrick Jory, Professor of the Queensland University, Australia. We discussed at length on the ongoing lockdown. He said, “I am not a health expert. But I think anyone examining the figures dispassionately will work out that it is not a major health crisis. We should not be freaking out. But yes, we should treat it seriously. And protect the elderly and people with pre-existing health conditions. But don’t destroy the economy! The problem is that the media is so powerful. When everyone is panicking it puts pressure on the government to do really stupid things which makes the situation much worse, especially the economy. Once it becomes the dominant narrative in the media it’s hard for politicians to do anything other than take political advantage of it. If we think about it morally, it’s bad. But if we think about it objectively it’s what politicians do. Their whole job is to take political advantage. I cannot really blame them for it any more than we can blame a farmer for taking advantage of good rains.”

The COVID-19 pandemic brings the government of affected countries in front of a touchstone.  Should they completely lock down the whole country for the safety of its citizen or never do it to run the production chain to save the economy? Both points are very important.

Without any political implication, the smaller countries should accept the test-lockdown-test process by implementing partial lockdown in the region of that country where through test it might find more COVID-19 infected patients. On the other hand, a densely populated country like India or any other countries with financial incapability to run random COVID-19 test of every citizen should implement complete lockdown to stop the spreading of the virus. The government should be pumping more funds in social and health sectors. So that, people who have lost their earnings or daily wage earners, might get some kind of governmental aid to run their families. Alongside, government must help by arranging funds to middle or small scale industrialists to ensure that they are not compel to close down their manufacturing units or locked it out due to the huge loss of its present production as fallout of the lockdown.

 Longest march on Indian road.

Bangladesh has announced nearly US $ 60000000 fund for their export orient garment industry houses. Nazneen Ahmed, a prominent young economist said in a recent TV interview that industry has enough fund to cope with this recession as they had done in the time of 2008. She also said, small and medium industries of Bangladesh are incapable of doing it. The government must ponder and arrange a separate fund for these industries. In India, the government should do the same and take some strict measures implementing new laws to prohibiting big companies to layoff after the lockdown period is over. These measures could save the people from health and economic hazards.

Indian Nobel laureate economists Prof. Amartya Sen and Prof. Abhijit Vinayak Banerjee have suggested that the Indian government may use their “Jana Dhan Account” or Poor person government initiated bank account to direct bank transfer of some amount of money to every citizen of India who is living under the poverty. Dr Banerjee also suggested that the government might print currencies; if it is at all necessary. Top Italian born US economist like Mariana Mazzucato said, the pandemic will give chances to the world economy to turn into a fairer inclusive economy, where all the state has great chances of contribution than the others in the next 10 years to come out from this deep economical recession. We must accept lockdown for health but should not accept lockout for it. A more socialistic approach in economy could be the way to bailout of the current crisis.

Featured Photo- Rome under lockdown. Gettyimages

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