“Viruses do not discriminate,” a wise man once said.
Our world has been forced to hit brakes as an unlikely virus broke out in Wuhan. From the soil of Wuhan to every corner of the world, the threat of COVID-19 rose and sprang at lightning speed. Its contagious nature became our nemesis and we found ourselves in chains.
The policy-makers and world economist thought that a threat like COVID-19 which is equally susceptible to any human would conjoin the world and constrict the prevailing inequality gap but they seemed to underestimate human instincts. The television flashing more number of cases each passing hour did not help our situation at all. Fear spread like wildfire. Panic seriously heightened our survival instincts and each person began to act to save himself even if it meant drowning others. These actions changed the balance, it meant more poverty for the poor and more privileges for the rich to exercise.
“We have reached a tipping point. Inequality can no longer be treated as an afterthought.”
– OECD Secretary-General
COVID-19 rigorously tested our health infrastructures worldwide and provided evidence of inequalities.
With hospitals getting an influx of COVID 19 patients in the absence of a cure, doctors had to give up on saving the lives of the older patients. Frequent exposure to the virus threatened the lives of such front-line workers. We have lost a number of experienced, specialized and dedicated doctors in the first and second quarter of 2020; which could become a concern post-COVID 19 situation.
The shadow of inequality followed further. Tests for COVID-19 were insanely expensive and supply of ventilators was never enough whether it was a developed or a developing country.
Ideally, equality in this situation meant providing similar opportunity and treatment to all the COVID 19 affected people as the affected Prime Ministers of the countries received. Keeping it as a benchmark, our next decade could become an era of improving health infrastructure for equal treatment.
Education sector faced complete shutdown. On-campus activities were immediately called off and to this day, depending on the situation of countries, educational institutes are not allowed to reopen. This poses a severe dilemma of bringing children back to school especially in the developing countries where there is an opportunity cost of sending a child to a school in addition to his or her educational expense.
This halt in education implies more and more people will live below the poverty line in the coming years.
Differences in social classes became more evident when the world moved towards an online education system. It did not cater to the students who lacked access to technology and internet, may it be due to their economic situation or geographical location.
While it was understandable that educationists did their best to continue teaching, this entire online education experiment questioned rigidity in our education system and highlighted the need to allow innovative modes of teaching and grading.
Inequality is black and white we have wrestled with since generations. The rich getting richer and poor decimating even more in the depths of poverty is a sick condition and COVID-19 only worsened it.
The preventive measures for COVID-19 were no gift for the poor. If you already lack access to clean water, you cannot possibly wash your hands, let alone frequently and for 20-seconds. Buying a sanitizer is off-the-table and staying 3 feet apart from everyone is not even a choice for someone who lives in a slum.
The lockdown condition was a devil’s dance for our daily wagers. These people find work on a daily basis and their night-time meal depends on the few dimes they are lucky enough to take home. Closing the markets was a severe blow to the economy. These daily wagers could not find work with markets closed. The point to note here is that the middle class/upper class was also affected but not as adversely as the daily wagers. They still had resources and options to feed their families: find work online, work from home or ration food from their savings. On the contrary, the daily wagers were in nothing but shambles.
Pandemics or epidemics are no good news but what happens when the curve flattens out?
We have seen from our past experience with global crises that the steam does not blow off easily. The inequality gap worsens even more after these crises are over.
If we use the Gini coefficient – a quantitative variable that expresses inequality – to illustrate the situation from the past pandemics; it shows that jobs vanish from the market and remittances from abroad decrease substantially. Statistics highlights that the Gini coefficient is expected to rise by at least 1.5 per cent five years after the pandemic is over. The numbers are predicted from the previous pandemics and epidemics.
Policymakers need to realise that a well-thought action is crucial for post-pandemic recovery and to address the consequences of COVID 19. These upcoming policies should not only focus on equal opportunity for all but also bring into play the principles of equity in order to help the most vulnerable segments of society.
Major steps can include: launching of income generation programs, employment opportunities, pro-active health infrastructure, digital education system and social welfare programs for the deserving households.
One of the ways is to collaborate with small and medium enterprises in the relevant sectors. This will not only create employment and income opportunities but it will also assist SMEs to recover from their business losses during the current pandemic.
Policymakers can roll out schemes that strengthen the market directly especially connected to the daily wagers such as the construction sector.
To facilitate agriculturists, the post-pandemic world can work on introducing digital aid for efficient supply and delivery food chains.
Last but not the least, the revival of the economy should include climate-friendly measures. The world will not be ready to take on another catastrophe caused by human’s actions. We expect to see green elements in our recovery policies.