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What's economic cost of Covid-19 pandemic?

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The other terrifying aspect is that Covid is fast spreading its tentacles into hinterlands and rural areas. If this continues unabated, the rural economy will also lose the steam and agricultural output will take a severe beating

What is the economic cost of Covid-19 pandemic in India? That's a tricky question now, for which there is no accurate answer yet. But going by the way the novel coronavirus is spreading its deadly wings across the country, India is most likely to pay a heavy economic toll in this financial year and beyond. In mid-July, the rating agency ICRA forecast that the Indian economy would contract by a whopping 9.5 per cent in FY21. Just two months prior to that in May, the same agency pegged this fiscal year's economic shrinkage at five per cent. In June, former union finance secretary Subhash Chandra Garg estimated the GDP fall would be at a disappointing low of (-)10 per cent in FY21. These estimates are clear signals that economic dynamics are fast changing in the country.

But all these projections look conservative by a mile. The Indian economy is mostly likely to contract by around 20 per cent this financial year. The reason for such a steep fall in GDP is obvious. Covid cases are rising by the day and there is no end to the upward trajectory of the pandemic tally in sight. On Saturday, our country witnessed a record daily surge of over 57,000 cases, taking the total Covid-19 count to 17 lakh. As observed in many countries, increase in total cases will lead to rise in daily count as the pandemic's spread expands. If this expansion theory is taken into account, the day is not far off when India's daily Covid count touches a daunting one lakh mark. Furthermore, there is every likelihood of our country outpacing the US and taking the global top position in Covid tally. That's intimidating, isn't it? But it's going to be reality unless some miracle happens and a vaccine for the deadly virus becomes a reality. Also, there will be some relief if the pandemic peaks by September or October.

But the fact of the matter is that the economy will not come back on a recovery track unless the pandemic is contained. The other terrifying aspect is that Covid is fast spreading its tentacles into hinterlands and rural areas. If this continues unabated, the rural economy will also lose the steam and agricultural output will take a severe beating. Till now, it is being expected that the agriculture sector will provide some succour to the Covid-hit economy. But that is going to be very unlikely now. So, it's a chaotic situation out there which will push the economy into a bigger crisis. The impact on the healthcare infrastructure will also be enormous. But the sad part is that barring a few, most of the State governments have thrown up their hands. So is also the Centre. This can be gauged from the fact that most of the leaders in power have gone silent on the pandemic.

But they can't escape from the responsibility though. Leaders in power need to realise that this pandemic will play a key role in the next elections whenever the elections come. For, it has impacted every family and every member of each family in one way or the other. Therefore, people will rate the governments on how they have handled this once-in-a-century crisis. All other achievements and developmental activities will obviously take a back seat. That's so because people's first worry is their physical health. And the second worry is their own financial health. The governments that handle both worries dexterously will come up trumps. Others will be shown the door. That's as simple as that. However, some ruling parties and their leaders may be an exception to this rule as weak Opposition may work in their favour. But this rule is dynamic in nature. If people are vexed with the current dispensation beyond a critical point, they will go with whichever alternative is available. In that case, 'Weak Opposition' theory will also not work. But it is unfair to blame the governments alone. A section of people are also equally responsible for the sorry state of affairs in the country. India is a poor country. That's the reality beyond any doubt. So, the debilitating impact of Covid-19 pandemic on the economy is going to take a heavy toll on the financial health of each and every individual irrespective of whether he or she is infected with the virus or not. If someone gets unlucky and falls prey to a serious attack of the virus, the healthcare bill will cripple the infected person financially for many years to come.

But Indians are not poor when it comes to attitude. That's adding fuel to the 'Covid' fire. Recently, I was waiting at a bill counter of a popular vegetable mart. A man in his thirties was standing behind me. We were the only two customers in that queue. As he was very close to me, I requested him to step back a bit. But he refused to move back. Furthermore, he moved closer to me, saying there was no need for any more distance between us. That's the typical Indian attitude which needs to be discarded during these trying times. There is a golden chance of protecting ourselves from the deadly Covid-19 pandemic by maintaining a safe physical distance from others, wearing a proper face mask, sanitising hands at regular intervals and keeping surroundings clean. And all these cost hardly anything when compared to the Covid treatment expenses and associated issues. Furthermore, maintaining physical distance from others comes at free of cost. But unfortunately, people like the one I cited above are behaving foolishly, putting others at risk. As a consequence, our country, our economy and some unlucky people are paying a heavy price.

People who escaped from the jaws of Covid-19 by paying hefty hospital bills know how costly such silly mistakes are. It's time people realise that they can save their families, country and its economy if they behave responsibly for a few months. That's what is the need of the hour now.

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