- Masks, fines for spitting: Window to new normal
- Explained: How COVID-19 can help deal with the silent tuberculosis crisis
- A blueprint to revive the economy
- India must do all it can to help the migrant workers stranded in West Asia
- Telemedicine can reach patients where access to medical care is difficult
- Will the aviation industry recover from the pandemic?
MASKS, FINES FOR SPITTING: WINDOW TO NEW NORMAL
Focus: GS-III Science and Technology
What are the changes that we see following COVID-19 guidelines?
Among the guidelines for COVID-19 management issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs on 15th April 2020 are:
- Face covers are to be worn at all times at work or public spaces
- Those found spitting in public spaces will be fined
- All workplaces will have to screen employees for temperature and ensure social distancing.
Overarchingly, the guidelines emphasise:
- The need for sanitation
- Temperature checks, and
- Social distancing.
- The guidelines also make it mandatory for workers to have medical insurance.
- Work spaces must also ensure staggered lunch breaks, a one-hour gap between shifts and carry out sanitisation between shifts.
- Persons above 65 years of age and persons with co-morbidities and parents of children below the age of 5 may be encouraged to work from home.
- For manufacturing establishments, the guidelines mandate hand washing and “frequent cleaning” of common surfaces.
- The guidelines also say that hospitals or clinics, which are authorised to treat COVID-19 in nearby areas should be identified, and lists should be made available at all times.
- As part of the SOP for offices, workplaces and factories, the guidelines prohibit large meetings, and say anyone entering or exiting the work place must undergo thermal scanning.
Enforcement of these guidelines
The guidelines will be enforced by district magistrates across the country through fines and penal action under the Disaster Management Act, 2005.
- While specific states have taken some of these measures, such as mandating the use of masks and a ban on spitting in public, these guidelines now mean that the rules apply nationwide, with legal enforcement under the Disaster Management Act.
What effect might it have on people in the future beyond the pandemic?
- General hygiene practices like washing hands will be increased.
- People will have higher inclination to get proper treatment from qualified doctors.
- Spitting tobacco and other such unhealthy actions can be reduced.
- General understanding of how diseases spread will help build on scientific temper of people and may reduce dependence on superstitious beliefs.
EXPLAINED: HOW COVID-19 CAN HELP DEAL WITH THE SILENT TUBERCULOSIS CRISIS
Focus: GS-III Science and Technology
What exactly has WHO said for TB patients during COVID-19?
- There is a need to maintain TB services during effective response to COVID-19.
- It is important that the progress made in TB prevention and care is not reversed by the COVID19 pandemic.
- TB patients who have lung damage or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease may suffer from more severe illness if they are infected with COVID-19.
Why India needs to act on this statement?
- India accounts for 27 per cent of the world’s total TB patients and is among the top 8 countries with the highest number of TB cases.
- In 2018, as many as 4.4 lakh people died of TB in India which is 29 per cent of the total 1.5 million deaths due to TB in the world.
- Out of total 7 million cases reported in 2018 across the world, India had 2.69 million cases, while, according to data available, it missed out on tracking down 5.40 lakh cases.
How does WHO want TB care gains protected during the outbreak?
- The agency has said that there is a stronger case for concurrent testing for both conditions in these individuals even if the clinical picture is atypical.
- Doctors claim that people suffering from TB and COVID-19 may have poorer treatment outcomes, especially if TB treatment is interrupted as the immunity of TB patients is very low.
Can the pandemic help trace 5.4 lakh ‘missed out’ TB patients?
- Health experts believe so. They argue that because of the fear of the coronavirus several will step forward for testing since symptoms for TB – fever, cough and difficulty in breathing — are almost similar to coronavirus.
- The medical examination then will help reveal their TB bacteria infection. The current situation can also help identify people with latent TB – who have the disease but no symptoms. According to WHO, there are 25 per cent patients with latent TB.
A BLUEPRINT TO REVIVE THE ECONOMY
Focus: GS-III Indian Economy
Why in news?
- Every sector of the economy in every nation has come to a screeching halt. A lockdown is necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But we need not make a choice between saving lives and protecting livelihoods. We can achieve both through a ‘smart’ lockdown and careful economic management.
- Here are excerpts from a carefully crafted economic proposal for consideration of the Indian government by former Finance Minister P Chidambaram and Praveen Chakravarty:
Demand, supply challenges
- First, it is important to diagnose the scale of the economic crisis accurately. It is important for the government to “feed” the ones who lost their jobs and help the employer to restart activities so that he can re-employ people soon.
- The economic crisis needs a demand side and a supply side response.
- It is morally imperative that we immediately address the miseries of the poor and vulnerable by providing money as well as food.
Money matters behind “feeding” people
- The bottom half of all households (13 crore out of the 26 crore families) must be given ₹5,000 per family in their bank account within a week.
- The list of households and the bank details (largely Aadhaar-seeded) are available in the government’s various schemes such as PMJAY and MGNREGA.
- Besides, the States have their ‘below poverty line’ lists. This will cost a maximum of ₹65,000 crore. Further, depending on the need, for the month of May, these families can be given ₹3,000 each. This will cost an additional ₹39,000 crore.
Food over money
- India has far in excess of the buffer stock requirement and The Central government has already announced distribution of free food, but reports suggest that there is either lack of food supplies at the local ration shop or identity requirements of ration cards are proving to be a roadblock.
- The government must universalise food distribution immediately, to remove identity requirements, and work with State governments to rush supplies to every ration shop so that every family gets free grain.
Work is important too
- The April 15 guidelines allow MGNREGA work, which was stopped due to the lockdown, to be restarted while observing social distancing norms.
- District collectors should be given the freedom to start and expand works under MGNREGA.
- If work cannot be given for some reason, 10 days’ wages every month should be paid to the registered MGNREGA workers in the panchayat/block until the scheme is resumed. This will ensure some livelihood support.
Employers can resume if economy opens gradually
- The key to reopening is our ability to identify sensitive COVID-19 hotspot areas and containment zones.
- The Central and State governments must work in tandem to identify hotspots, preferably at the level of the block/mandal and not just at the district level.
- This can be done with the help of public health experts and epidemiologists through strategic testing.
- Starting May 4, the new guidelines must be expanded to permit all economic activity (with a few exceptions) in non-hotspot areas.
- Economic activity requires labour and capital, which are significantly diminished due to the lockdown.
- Continuous testing and monitoring will be needed as new areas may turn into hotspots and hotspots may become non-hotspots.
Small shops matter
- Let small shops, service establishments and the self-employed start commercial activity in their areas.
- Three-quarters of the 80 million enterprises are establishments that operate in local areas.
- As long as they observe the usual precautions, they will not add to the risks. This will boost local economic activity.
The risk of resuming Agricultural Labour
- The new guidelines permit agricultural activity during the rabi harvest season. This is a step in the right direction.
- However, the constraint for all these commercial and agricultural activities will be the availability of labour for which re-opening of travel and transport is crucial.
- But it is also the riskiest as mass rapid transit as well as private transport must be gradually opened in non-hotspot areas.
- It is necessary to open up rail and bus transport with adequate precautions such as temperature checks and social distancing norms inside buses and trains.
- One strategy could be to reduce the number of passengers in each bus and train by increasing the frequency of the vehicles or by running them at half-capacity. There will be trade-offs, but each local transport authority can choose the right policy and tweak it from time to time.
Funding the revival
- The other essential ingredient for resumption of economic activity is access to capital, especially working capital.
- A majority of the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) would have run out of cash and lost significant revenues. No bank is likely to lend to them.
- The government must step in to provide credit guarantees that can incentivise banks to SMEs.
- The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has already instructed banks to issue a moratorium on loan obligations for three months. If needed, this can be extended by another three months.
What about the formal sector?
- The idea is for the government to help formal sector businesses to keep workers on their payroll without resorting to retrenchment or lay-offs.
- The 2017-18 Economic Survey estimated, using the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) data set, that there are 40 million employees earning less than ₹15,000 per month who are employed in firms registered under the Goods and Services Tax (GST).
- It is likely that they are vulnerable to retrenchment. The government could ‘protect their pay cheques’ by funding their employers to pay them for one or two months.
- This can be implemented using data from the EPFO and GST databases.
Role that RBI can play in external sector and tourism etc.
- The RBI, and through it the banks, should be encouraged to make capital available liberally to sectors such as tourism and manufacturing, which need specific interventions.
- External trade will continue to be tepid. India must do whatever it takes through export incentives and strategic use of foreign exchange reserves to capitalise on the export opportunity arising out of this crisis and stimulate exports dramatically over the next few years.
- Exports can be the key to jobs for hundreds of millions of skilled and unskilled workers, as it was during the boom years 2004-2010.
- Fiscal stimulus measures on the demand and supply side must be supplemented by monetary stimulus from the RBI with re-designed measures such as moratorium, loan forgiveness, regulatory forbearance, revised NPA regulations and easing the cycle of credit flow.
Do we have the money to indulge in such a revival and recovery package?
- The total fiscal package is estimated to cost ₹5-6 lakh crore. That amount is available.
- The Centre and the States have a total expenditure budget of over ₹70 lakh crore for 2020-21. The Centre alone has budgeted to spend ₹4 lakh crore on capital expenditure this fiscal year.
- In a crisis, much of the capital expenditure may not be possible at all, and even if it is, must be deferred to the next fiscal year.
- Besides, more savings can be identified by axing wasteful expenditure.
- Further, the Centre can borrow money during times like this without crowding out private investment or pushing up interest rates.
- As a final resort, the government can monetise part of additional deficit, otherwise known as ‘printing money’.
INDIA MUST DO ALL IT CAN TO HELP THE MIGRANT WORKERS STRANDED IN WEST ASIA
Focus: GS-II International Relations
Why in news?
Around eight million people in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries constitute a unique cohort among Indian diaspora communities around the world.
Significance of Indian workers in West Asia
- Around 50% of them are unskilled and another 30% are semi-skilled.
- Only a small minority of 20% of them are skilled and lucratively employed, but all these migrant workers together form the backbone of India’s ties with the region.
- Their contribution of nearly 40% of the total foreign exchange remittances to India is critical to its economy. Their labour is vital for the GCC economy.
- With no option of assimilation into their host countries, their link to the home country remains intact, unlike Indian immigrants to the West.
Difficulties faced by Indians in West Asia due to COVID-19
- The vast majority of them who are on subsistence wages are facing a tough situation in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Living and working conditions make it extremely difficult for them to practise social distancing or get treatment if infected.
- Many of them suffer from pre-existing medical conditions and are used to procuring medicines from India, which is now impossible.
- Vast sectors of the economy are shut, rendering many of them jobless. Thousands are without documentation.
- Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha being important transits for international travel, thousands of Indian travellers are also stuck in the region.
Indian Diaspora report as of September 2019
- The count of the Indian diaspora has increased 10% from 15.9 million in 2015, making it the largest in the world, according to the UN’s International Migrant Stock 2019 released on September 2019.
- It now comprises 6.4% of the total global migrant population.
- In 1990, India was behind Russia and Afghanistan as a source of international migrants at 6.6 million with Russia sending 12.7 million abroad and Afghanistan 6.8 million.
- In 2019, Russia fell to the fourth position behind Indian, Mexico and China with 10.5 million migrants.
- The United Arab Emirates (UAE) was the top destination of Indian migrants followed by the US, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Oman, as per the data set compiled by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs Division.
How can India help them?
- India must work closely with governments of the region to bring them succour.
- Prime Minister Narendra Modi has nurtured good relations with all rulers of the region but the ongoing crisis is testing the endurance of India’s ties with some of the GCC countries.
- The UAE government has said it might revise current partnerships concerning labour relations with nations refusing to cooperate with measures to repatriate private sector expatriates who wish to return home.
- Kerala which is home to more than two million Indian immigrants in the Gulf and Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Punjab have a significant number of people in the Gulf.
- The Centre must take the initiative to bring together State governments, and work out arrangements with national governments in the region in a manner acceptable to all.
- It will certainly take some effort to arrive at what is doable and desirable at this juncture, but there is no excuse for not doing that.
- That is the least India can do for these people whose search for a livelihood has done the country so much good.
TELEMEDICINE CAN REACH PATIENTS WHERE ACCESS TO MEDICAL CARE IS DIFFICULT
Focus: GS-III Science and Technology
Significance of technology in the COVID-19 Crisis
- The world has very few devices left to fight COVID-19 with, but technology remains one of them.
- Whether it is the employ of state-of-the-art technology in the discovery of cures or vaccines, or traditional technology services to enhance health care and consultations, or even tools that keep people at home occupied/productive, it is clear that technology will serve humanity at one of its darkest moments.
- The pandemic has contributed, in no small measure, to the understanding of the myriad ways in which available technologies have not been put to better use, and presented people with multiple opportunities to harness these devices, techniques and methods to get on with life in the time of lockdown.
- Among the primary uses is telemedicine, rendered inexorable now, by the temporary paralysis brought on by a freeze on movement.
How is telemedicine being enabled?
- The Centre’s recent guidelines allowing for widespread use of telemedicine services came as a shot in the arm for telehealth crusaders in the country.
- This move finds consonance with the rest of the world where several nations, also deeply impacted by the pandemic, have deployed telemedicine to reach people who have been unable to come to hospital, to reduce footfalls in hospitals, and to even provide medical and mental health counselling to countless people.
Advantages of telemedicine during these times
- The advantages are peculiar in the current context, when putting distance between people is paramount, as tele consultations are not barred even when health care professionals and patients may have to be quarantined.
- The advancement of telecommunication capabilities over the years has made the transmission of images and sound files (heart and lung sounds, coughs) faster and simpler.
- Pilot telemedicine experiments in ophthalmology and psychiatry have proven to be of immense benefit to the communities.
- While unleashing the full potential of telemedicine to help people, experts and government agencies must be mindful of the possible inadequacies of the medium, and securing sensitive medical information; such cognisance should guide the use of the technology.
WILL THE AVIATION INDUSTRY RECOVER FROM THE PANDEMIC?
Focus: GS-III Industry and Infrastructure
Why in news?
The aviation industry, like several other sectors, is facing a crisis in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With travel restrictions, grounded fleets, benched staff, schedule uncertainties, ticket liabilities and cash burn, questions are being raised on whether the civil aviation sector can survive the epidemic.
Crisis in the Indian Aviation Industry
- In India it is going to definitely take more than a month even to start services and then it is going to take at least a couple of years to come back to at least 50% of what we were. And that depends on how many airlines survive.
- The crisis confronting the aviation industry is not only unprecedented but also that no one who is working in the industry has any clue on how to put the industry back on track.
- It’s not a question of only restrictions, visas not being allowed, travel not being allowed, airlines not being allowed. Even after all these are allowed, there will be apprehension.
- The fact is that a plane on the ground costs the airline enormously. In India, for example, out of the 650 planes you have with all the airlines, 50% of them have been taken on lease. So even while they’re on the ground the lease rentals are being paid.
- It is not only employees who are being unproductive but also the machines. So, both men and machines are taking a heavy toll on the aviation industry.
How can governments and airlines facilitate recovery to be smooth?
- The recent statements of the DGCA [Directorate General of Civil Aviation] say: even when the flights are put back into operation, the concept of social distancing will be imposed on the airlines.
- If you are only going to be flying one-third of your capacity, look at the kind of fares that an airline will have to charge to sustain its operations.
- We are perhaps getting back to the era of the 1940s and the 1950s where only the elite could afford to travel.