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  • Raghav Sand

Lessons from Pandemic and What is in Store for 2022

The Covid-19 virus is stubborn and persistent. It is continuously evolving and finding ways to bypass human immune system. Life on Earth has not been easy, but in the last two centuries scientific progress has simplified it manifold. HIV, Malaria, Tuberculosis and road accidents are a bigger menace as compared to Covid-19. Health experts have suggested that the Covid-19 pandemic is the worst thing that has happened to the fight against other pathogens. It has consumed financial and human resources, which would otherwise have been devoted to find other vaccines and cures.

Probability and Impact

Humans have always overestimated their capability to tame nature. Do we seriously believe that our planet has fondness for humans? Nature is unbiased and untamed. Life on Earth is biochemistry in motion. We should stop pretending to be the chosen species and cease to impose ourselves carelessly on nature. Since the 1918 influenza pandemic, there have been small outbreaks which were fatal, but not widespread. An outbreak like the Covid-19 pandemic was an inevitable catastrophe. Epidemiologists, often called “Disease Detectives”, did not expect anything as severe as the Covid-19 virus.

No one took the warnings of disease detectives seriously. They had advocated about the lack of readiness to withstand a low probability, high impact event. Health and safety experts devoted disproportionate resources towards high probability, low impact disease outbreaks. The unprecedented scale of Covid-19 pandemic showed the world a mirror. A mix of arrogance and ignorance led to high infection and death rates. In a world which is more divided than ever before, a pandemic brought parity. Countries which have advanced health infrastructure were brought to their knees.

In the past we have either exaggerated or ignored the idea of a pandemic that can wreak havoc. Our institutions in the medical and government apparatus have historically not been comfortable and qualified to speak to one another. The Covid-19 pandemic has shown that human ingenuity can solve difficult problems. Vaccine hesitancy in developed nations and low rate of vaccination elsewhere can derail our pursuit of a pandemic free world.

Policy Blindspot

Depending upon which region of the world you belong, there have been multiple waves of infections and deaths from Covid-19 virus. Every subsequent wave has proven to be stronger than the previous one. Discovery of newer variants bring fear and anxiety even among the fully vaccinated. In some countries booster shots have been recommended, while in other places people are taking them privately.

Covid-19 pandemic is a much bigger event than the financial crisis of 2008. Highly leveraged economies witnessed liquidity crisis after the collapse of financial markets. Though, in both the events, the gap between the haves and have-nots has become more pronounced. It will be gross negligence and incompetence from policymakers if they fail to ignore potential threats in future planning and decision-making.

Global financial support agencies such as the International Monetary Fund have tried to provide non-vaccine support to vulnerable and at-risk nations. Hyper focus on one virus may not be justifiable after all. In business, time is money, while in medicine and healthcare it can be the difference between life and death.

Historically, the vaccine development timeline has run into years, sometimes even decades. Why are we satisfied with the pace of development elsewhere, when we could, develop, approve and distribute the vaccine for Covid-19 virus in less than a year? Thoughts and things moved at record pace even in the case of development of diagnostic test for Covid-19. Are the scientists, pharma companies and drug regulators not aware of the loss of life and livelihood due to other diseases? In an ever-changing world, climate change has shown how vulnerable we are to the fury of natural forces. People cannot be left on their own during hard times. Being compassionate is the least we can do for each other.

Annual Outlook 2022

Most economies are expected to register growth above their long-term trend next year due to the low-base effect. The economic landscape is constantly evolving and pent-up saving will make its presence felt in the market. Production is currently below the level of demand in the economy. Inflation has compounded financial woes for everyone. Monetary policy is uncharacteristically behind the curve. All the participants in the economy are throwing darts with blindfold on.

The chaos and cost of logistics is expected to subside in the second half of next year. Government support to household income may continue for longer than expected. Hybrid working is here to stay. People will recalibrate aspirations due to lack of income and growth opportunities. Jobless growth, which has become a permanent feature in India, will haunt the jobseekers and government alike.

Elections in Uttar Pradesh next year will dictate fiscal arithmetic of the central government. On the global stage, mid-term elections in United States, and Presidential elections in France and Brazil are expected to influence key policy measures. Reserve Bank of India (RBI), in its review of state budgets, has flagged outrageous borrowings to fund revenue deficits. RBI has recommended to strengthen the third-tier of government, which comprises of municipal corporations and panchayat. Local governments are best placed to understand the needs of the citizens; it has been at the forefront of providing health and other essential services during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The pursuit of growth at all costs has started to show its ill-effects. Extreme weather-related events have become commonplace. Capital inflows have risen sharply, while productivity has slipped in the opposite direction. Any suggestion about sustainability and concern for planet is labelled as the hybrid of socialism and pessimism.

What Next?

Capitalism is the longest running experiment to date. It has no sense of responsibility and has evolved with trial and error. Each time it seems to crumble, disciples of free-market economy inject liquidity in the market. For a short while everything seems alright, interest rates are kept at low levels, which inflates the prices of assets. A small section of the society that holds large chunk of the financial assets gets richer in the process.

The Covid-19 pandemic has widened the gap not only between people, but it has drawn an indelible line between business corporations and countries as well. In the aftermath of Covid-19 pandemic, countries have become dangerously inward looking. Liberal internationalism brought most of the benefits humanity has seen in the last two centuries. Countries which have the capability to develop and manufacture vaccine kept it for themselves. Omicron variant of the Covid-19 virus is the direct outcome of low vaccination rates and lack of testing in the African continent. In a connected world, where people travel for work, education and leisure, neglecting a region altogether has proven to be counterproductive.

We have to look ahead to 2022 with reasonable optimism. Setting realistic goals is essential. Equity must be achieved in allocation of all kinds of resources. For institutions, it is important to evaluate the ground realities. As a species, we must empathize with one another and try to become part of the solution

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