Life or Livelihood…Health or Wealth
A Peek Into the COVID-19 Pandemic led Catch 22 Situation
The entire world has been reeling from the totally unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic for the past almost 17 months, which has wreaked immeasurable havoc on life and livelihood.
Covid-19, being a novel strain of virus, no vaccine or medicine was initially available to combat it. The virus was not only spreading at alarming rates, mainly through contact, but also had significant fatality rates. Therefore, the only way to prevent the wrath of the virus was to stay away from it and hence most governments across the world adopted the WHO’s recommendation of imposing ‘lockdowns’. The crucial question that emerged in this context was whether it was more important to protect life (and health) through a continued imposition of lockdowns, or livelihood (and wealth) by not bringing the economy to a halt, which was also crucial to ultimate survival! This dilemma has been one of the toughest decisions of all times for the governments, and considering the undeniable mutual interdependence of life and livelihood, has created a quintessential Catch-22 situation.
This Catch 22 situation is comparable to the famous policy dilemma of the Philips curve in economics which shows a trade-off between two major economic problems: inflation and unemployment, either of which could be reduced only at the cost of the other. In today’s pandemic, the policy dilemma is between life or livelihood, both of which are crucial to survival, and neither of which can be compromised upon at any cost!
In order to study this dilemma, it is necessary to weigh the losses caused by the pandemic to livelihood and life:
Livelihood and Wealth: The Economic Fall-Out of the Pandemic
Covid-19 and the ensuing lockdowns plunged the world into a deep economic crisis, the worst since the Great Depression of 1930’s.
At the global level, the growth rate fell to -4.5 to -6% in 2020 leading to a cumulative loss of about USD 9 trillion in 2020-21. Global trade also fell by 5.3% in 2020. In Q12020, the world’s manufacturing output growth declined by 6%. The pandemic also severely impacted the global unemployment levels with about 1.6 billion workers in the informal economy and 305 million full-time workers estimated to face job losses. About 95 million people are estimated to have entered the extreme poverty level due to the pandemic.
In India, the lockdown created a 23.9% contraction in GDP in Q12021 which is expected to recover to -7.7% in 2020-21. The manufacturing sector sharply declined by 39.3% in Q12020-21, with the IIP declining by -15.5% in 2020-21. The service sector, a major contributor to GDP, contracted by almost 16% in Q2,2020-21.
The unemployment rate rose to an unprecedented level of 23.52% in April 2020. Approximately 40 million internal migrant workers lost their jobs, causing a mass exodus back to villages in the most distressing conditions.
The Other Side of the Coin: Life and Health
Covid-19 positive cases and fatalities reached alarming levels in 2021. By July 2021 the world recorded 181mn confirmed cases, 166.15million recoveries and 3.93 million deaths. India recorded 30.23 million confirmed cases, 29.25 million recoveries and about 4 lakh deaths. Equally distressing trends are also witnessed world over. The second wave of Covid-19 in 2021 saw India and Brazil emerging as the hotspots of the virus, with India reaching its highest single-day total of more than 4 lakh cases on 6th May 2021, lockdowns, once again was the only option.
A Catch-22 situation: The Policy Dilemma
The dilemma between a lockdown for managing the virus or protecting livelihoods is unfortunately still ongoing. In spite of the strong economic fallouts of the lockdown there seems to be no other option but resorting to lockdowns to break the ‘chain of the virus’, until a significant percentage of the population is vaccinated; especially in view of the impending second and third waves of the pandemic. The policy dilemma continues inspite of representations by industries and labour groups against the lockdowns, and the advice of the medical and health organisations supporting lockdowns. Governments are committed to protect both life and livelihood, life being certainly more fundamental. Although livelihood is also of course essential for sustaining life, without life, the question of livelihood becomes meaningless. The answer to this dilemma, at least as a priority at this stage, would undoubtedly be life, reminding us of the old adage “Jaan Hai to Jahaan Hai, or “Health is Wealth “.
Prof (Dr) Sunayini Parchure
About the Author
Dr.Sunayini Parchure is a Ph.D in Economics. She was formerly the Vice Principal and Head, Department of Economics at Symbiosis College of Arts and Commerce, Pune. She has a teaching experience spanning almost a period of more than three decades at the undergraduate level coupled with about fifteen years post graduate teaching experience in economics and banking. She is also a recognised research guide for Ph.D. in the faculty of Humanities at the Symbiosis International University, SIU.
She is currently, Member, Academic Council of Symbiosis College of Arts and Commerce, Pune and visiting faculty at the PG Economics Programme and the Symbiosis Centre for Liberal Arts at Symbiosis College of Arts and Commerce, Pune.
Reading, music, travelling, writing are her other passions and she is a very social and friendly person and loves to be with people and friends.
Sunayini may be contacted at: [email protected]