Is the end of the Covid-19 pandemic in sight for India?
WHO chief has finally said that the world has never been better placed to end the Covid-19. But, are we really seeing the end of the pandemic? Should we lower our guard and shelve the masks?
In the second week of September, the number of weekly reported deaths due to Covid-19 plunged to its lowest since March 2020.
World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus cited this last week when he said that the end of the pandemic was now in sight. “We have never been in a better position to end the pandemic,” the WHO chief told the media during his regular weekly press conference. However, in a word of caution, he also added that the world was “not there yet”.
To date, according to WHO data, India has seen 44,539,046 confirmed cases of Covid-19, which have resulted in 528,355 lives lost. During the course of the pandemic, there were times when India's economy was virtually shuttered due to lockdowns that varied in their strictness. Except for select essential services and activities, shops, eateries, factories, transport services, and business establishments, all came to standstill for long periods of time, leaving a devastating impact on the economy.
Released in April this year, the Reserve Bank of India's report on currency and finance for FY22 said that it would take nearly 15 years for the Indian economy to make up for the losses incurred during the coronavirus pandemic.
This projection was arrived at after taking the actual growth rate of -6.6 per cent for FY21 and 8.9 percent for FY22 into account, along with assuming a growth rate of 7.2 per cent for FY23 and 7.5 per cent beyond that.
In monetary terms, the output losses estimated by the report were 19.1 trillion rupees for FY21, 17.1 trillion rupees for FY22 and Rs 16.4 trillion for FY23. The report does not reflect the views of the RBI itself. Instead, it reflects the view of its contributors, who are part of RBI’s Department of Economic and Policy Research.
Against this backdrop, the answer to whether the end of the Covid-19 pandemic is in sight or not becomes the most crucial determinant for how the Indian economy will fare going ahead.
Recent data also points to an improving situation. The seven-day moving average of daily new infections in India has been holding steady in the range of 5,000 to 6,000 in the past 10 days. This is down considerably from the recent high of 19,658 on the 24th of July, whereas, in the first week of April, India had been seeing just around 1,000 cases per day.
So, is India out of the danger zone?
Speaking to Business Standard, K Srinath Reddy, President, Public Health Foundation of India, says serious Covid infections are coming down but virus will stay. Must be vigilant about new variants from northern hemisphere in winter. Omicron seems destined to stay, it is not serious too.
Gagandeep Kang, Microbiologist and Professor, Christian Medical College says, end is not in sight but it will be less of a public health problem. We need to generate evidence on the best vaccine among a cluster, she says.
On whether the coming winter is crucial for India to get a measure of the pandemic’s direction, Gagandeep Kang said a lot of it is coming from the West where respiratory infections are particularly bad, and when combined with Covid, there is a sense that public health systems could be overwhelmed. But in India, flu seasons are varied and have smaller peaks, and hence we cannot take the problems of the west and expect to have a similar impact in India.
How will business fare?
Meanwhile, Indian companies are hiring thousands of temporary workers as the country prepares to celebrate its peak festival season without COVID restrictions for the first time in three years. The Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) expects sales in this Diwali season to be at least 30% higher than last year.
With health experts expecting lower mortality and largely a controlled scenario, businesses are hopeful that the country has left the Covid-induced lockdowns behind. However, with the threat of new variants emerging and some regions likely to witness a spike, activity may be disrupted in short phases.
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