20 October 2020: The Indian Express Editorial Analysis
1) Hope and caution-
India may be entering the festival season on a note of hope.
- A panel appointed by the Union Ministry of Science and Technology (MST) has reported a steady decline in COVID-19 cases since September 17, when the country recorded nearly 98,000 cases — the highest spike in a day.
- The graph, in fact, has fallen sharply in the first fortnight of October — the number of active cases fell by about 18% in this period.
- On Sunday, these numbers went below the eight-lakh mark for the first time in six weeks. The mortality(death) rate is also falling appreciably.
- If the current trend persists, according to the panel, the contagion could run its course in the country by February.
- The past 10 months have, however, shown that the virus defies(goes against) prediction.
- There is much about the pathogen that remains in the realm of the unknown — in fact, we still do not have a conclusive reason for the slowing down of the infection rate.
- The hope generated by reports of the disease being past its peak, therefore, needs to be tempered with caution.
- While the jury is out on the precise impact of the dipping temperature on the coronavirus, the recent upsurge of cases in Europe suggests that the coming winter will be critical in the battle against the health crisis.
- Gagandeep Kang, an epidemiologist told that, “there is a seasonality associated with the spread of viruses and based on that experience, it would not be out of place to suggest that the coronavirus might spread in winter”.
- The high level of particulate matter in the air of several Indian cities during early winter could increase the vulnerability of those with respiratory ailments.
- A National Centre of Disease Control report has warned the Delhi government of a sharp uptick in COVID-19 cases during the winter.
- The report’s suggestion to the Delhi government to engage with religious leaders to ensure that celebrations like Durga Puja, Dussehra and Chhath Puja remain low-key affairs.
- This is pertinent for governments in most parts of the country.
- The spike in Kerala’s caseload after the week-long Onam festivities in August is a warning — festivals can be super-spreaders.
DECREASE IN RATE:
- The MST panel report should be seen in conjunction with the recent serological studies in several parts of the country.
- They indicate that about 30% people have been exposed to the virus in urban areas.
- An ICMR study conducted across 70 districts in the country in September, in fact, points out that this figure could be as low as 7% at the all-India level.
- By all accounts, therefore, it would be premature to say that the virus has exhausted its supply of vulnerable people.
- The receding(decreasing) rate of infection should not bring a lowering of guard.
Reports of COVID-19 being past its peak are heartening. But there can be no lowering of guard.
2) Toll on her-
GS 2- Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability
- The signs are worrying, and they all point to an intensifying crisis in gender inequality.
- For one, the pandemic appears to have set back young women aiming to get into medical school more than the men.
- Analysis of numbers of those who appeared for the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) from 2017 shows a sharp fall in the attendance rate of girls in 2020 — a first in four years.
- Only about 85% of the girls who registered for the test wrote it eventually, as compared to 86 per cent of the boys.
- In 2019, the corresponding figures were 93 per cent and 92 per cent respectively.
- This could be one index of what teachers and experts have been warning.
- As education goes into a tailspin(disturbance) due to the pandemic, the disproportionate burden of consequences will fall on girls and women in higher education, undoing the gains of decades.
IMPACT ON WOMEN:
- The virus might not discriminate in its victims, but the pandemic appears to have strengthened all systemic inequalities.
- It has been extremely hard on Indian women, especially those at the bottom of India’s caste and class hierarchies. It is not education alone.
- Evidence is also trickling in of how women are being edged out of the post-lockdown economic scenario.
- For instance, as migrants returned to villages in the great exodus, the share of women in the work generated under the MGNREGA dipped to an eight-year low during the first five months of this financial year.
- The labour force participation rate of Indian women has been appalling(shocking) even in good years.
- But as analysis of real-time employment data in June by researchers showed, women who had jobs before the virus struck were 23.5 percentage points less likely to retain them than men.
- In a worsening economic scenario, this leaves them to fight for only the most precarious(uncertain), ill-paid work — if they have not already opted out of the workplace because of the increased responsibilities of domestic work and childcare during the pandemic.
- The home, itself, is hardly an idealised safe haven, with several studies flagging women’s increased vulnerability to domestic violence during the lockdowns.
- For decades, Indian women have mounted a challenge to the inequality hard-wired into families, societal structures and institutions through education and aspiration.
- As the pandemic eats into those precious reservoirs of resilience, the implications for their autonomy, health, nutrition and general well-being are bound to be dire.
- Governments and policymakers must find a way to address and mitigate(reduce) this silent but snowballing crisis.
- Virus might not discriminate in its victims, but pandemic has strengthened systemic inequalities.
3) An Urban Safety Net-
- While COVID-19 continues its assault(attack) on human lives, the Indian economy, after the devastation in the wake of the lockdown, is showing signs of recovering.
- Data from a variety of sources, such as exports and car sales, as well as data from NCAER’s Business Expectations Survey, point to the onset of a recovery.
- A new employment survey in the Delhi-NCR region, fielded by NCAER, adds to this chorus(refrain).
- However, it also points to the unevenness of this recovery and the continued vulnerability of specific populations.
- NCAER’s National Data Innovation Centre initiated a monthly telephone survey of men and women in the age group of 21-59 in March 2019 to improve the measurement of women’s work.
- The sample for the survey was drawn to be representative of the 31 districts falling within Delhi-NCR.
- This includes both urban and rural areas, some as far away as Bharatpur and Jind.
- This survey would have ended in April this year, but with the onset of lockdown, after a brief hiatus(break), it was extended to measure the impact of the lockdown and its gradual relaxation.
- Telephone interviews with about 2,200 adults, who were interviewed monthly between March 2019 and September 2020, paint an interesting picture.
- While every individual did not respond to each monthly survey, contrasting employment in the second quarter of the calendar year (April-June) and third quarter (July-Sept) for 2019 and 2020 for the same population, allows for robust(strong) year-on-year comparison.
- Four observations from this study are noteworthy.
- First, the employment data shows definite signs of a recovery.
- Comparing employment patterns of individuals in 2019 and 2020 over the April to September period shows that a sharp decline in employment took place in the second quarter due to the lockdown as well as signs of a recovery since the relaxation of the lockdown restrictions.
- For men, the worker-to-population ratio (WPR) in the second quarter fell from 88 per cent in 2019 to 62 per cent in 2020 — a fall of 26% points.
- In contrast, in the third quarter of 2020, the WPR was only 5% points below that in 2019.
- For women, the comparable decline was 16% points in the second quarter, regaining most of this lost ground in the third quarter, and remaining only 2 percentage points below its 2019 level.
- Second, self-employment has emerged as a protective force.
- Individuals engaged in farming and small household businesses have weathered the employment slowdown better than those engaged in salaried employment or those employed as casual labourers.
- Self-employment in the second quarter of 2020 was down by 12% points for men and nine percentage points for women, but, by the third quarter, it had returned nearly to its 2019 levels for both men and women.
- Microbusinesses experienced considerable distress in the early phase of the lockdown but they seem to be easing.
- In contrast, wage employment for men declined by 19% points during the lockdown and remains about 7% points lower in the third quarter.
- For women, comparable figures are 10 and two % points below the 2019 figures for second and third quarters respectively, though women start from a much lower level of participation in wage work.
- Third, the immediate and lingering impact of the lockdown has been uneven, and larger employment declines are observed in urban areas.
- The year-on-year WPR difference for urban men was 35 percentage points in the second quarter and 10% points in the third quarter.
- While for rural men, the deficit was 15 percentage points in the second quarter, down to two percentage points in the third quarter — an almost complete recovery.
- Fourth, individuals at the bottom of the income pyramid have been affected by job losses far more than the individuals at the top of the income pyramid and this difference is striking in cities.
- The WPR dropped by a whopping 44% points in the 2nd quarter and remains 13% points below its 2019 levels in the 3rd quarter for urban men who were in the bottom three quintiles of the household asset ownership before the pandemic.
- In contrast, for the top two quintiles, the decline was 27 percentage points in the second quarter, rising thereafter to remain only 8 percentage points below their 2019 levels in the third quarter.
- Even as the threat of the disease persists, Delhi-NCR, significantly affected by COVID-19 early on, is showing signs of an economic recovery.
- However, this recovery is uneven and the most vulnerable urban residents seem to be the last to recover.
- They were also the ones most affected during the lockdown.
- As the Delhi-NCR Coronavirus Telephone Surveys show, the urban poor, particularly the urban informal sector workers, showed the greatest signs of distress during the lockdown and reported greater hunger, indebtedness and an inability to pay rent.
- The virulence(severity) and spread of COVID-19 have justified the early preventive actions taken by the government.
- As large parts of the country struggle to contain the pandemic, the experience of Delhi-NCR holds important lessons.
- Social safety nets like MGNREGA and PM Kisan have historically been targeted towards rural residents.
- While a rural bias makes sense under normal conditions, the lockdown has disproportionately affected urban workers, particularly wage workers who had few assets to begin with.
- The urban poor is still finding it difficult to return to work. Targeting social safety nets towards them is necessary as the economy struggles to recover.
- These findings add to the urgency of thinking about an urban employment programme analogous(similar) to MGNREGA.