Over the past year, Covid-19 has morphed from a devil we knew little or nothing about to a devil we now know, ostensibly, quite thoroughly. There are still gaps to be filled, but a mountain of information is collected (and in turn analyzed) on the intensity of the virus, the associated risks, the impact on different demographics, strategies to fight the virus. itself and mitigation measures to protect finances and the economy. interests of the people. In the Pakistani context, enter PBS.
The Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) latest data collection exercise to assess the socio-economic impact of covid-19 during the first wave has invaluable information. The data that was collected from 6,000 households with an urban-to-rural ratio of 70:30 covers critical impact areas such as employment, income, food security, coping strategies and government assistance. government / NGO. But before summarizing some of his disturbing findings – especially for the part of the population unaffected by the virus and therefore suffering from the joys of ignorance – it’s important to understand why this data is so crucial.
After short periods of downtime, the virus comes back in force. The country, like the rest of the world, is in its third wave of the virus and it looks like this latest wave is proving to be deadlier than its predecessors. Naturally, the government must develop strategies in such a way as to, on the one hand, reduce the rate of spread of the virus, but, on the other hand, not to destabilize again the economy, which is undoubtedly still on the ground. unstable.
How did the first wave go then? The PBS found that due to the closure of economic activities after the lockdown, nearly 27 million people were either unemployed, unable to work, or suffering from reduced incomes, leading to a decline in the labor force. from 35% to 22%. It is a huge number. The most affected region remained Sindh, which saw its labor force decline by 15%.
Of those 27 million, the largest share, i.e. 20 million lost their jobs due to the foreclosure, while 6.7 million experienced reduced income scenarios. Perhaps an even more important finding here is that among the affected population, people employed in the informal sector such as daily betting, casual workers and the self-employed (traders, street vendors and taxi drivers) were the most affected and the most vulnerable. to covid-19 blockages – constituting 75 percent of the total affected population.
Further reinforcing the previous conclusion, based on household wealth quintiles, it was found that the highest percentage of households in the richest quintile (56%) did not perceive any shock to their financial well-being in due to blockages, against 25% of the poorest households. Another way to look at it is that 75 percent of the poorest households actually suffered a moderate to severe financial impact during the first wave. To cope with their dwindling wallet, 56% of the population reduced their non-food spending, 50% switched to low-quality and low-quantity food, 47% sold their property or spent their savings, and 30 % ended up taking out loans from friends. and the family.
The post-first wave scenario shows that the labor force improved again (August to October 2020) by up to 33%, less than the pre-covid era but still a substantial improvement. However, soon after this lull, the second wave hit the economy and now the third wave. Although the country has not entered a situation of complete lockdown, several restrictive measures (in terms of mobility, keeping company doors open, etc.) have been taken in subsequent waves, which naturally means that the recovery in labor force and income may have been reset to some extent.
Although there is a lot of learning here, unfortunately there is little data on the socio-economic profiles of the population who actually contracted the virus, ended up in hospital, required treatment. immediate health problems and / or succumbed to the virus. These data should have been collected because it is essential to compare here the impact of the virus itself on different socio-economic segments versus the so-called indirect consequences of the virus on these same socio-economic segments, including mitigation strategies. (like containment) adopted by the government.
There is a growing belief that poorer segments were more immune to contracting the virus, although there is no certain way to validate this. If this assertion is contrasted with the confirmed fact that the poorest segments have been more heavily affected by the lockdowns, that would be rather puzzling information. But should also ultimately inform better policies for the government as the third wave strengthens.
What is certain is that the government must move towards nationwide prevention policies (while conducting side-by-side vaccination awareness campaigns), which would imply free vaccinations throughout the population. to achieve collective immunity. Inoculating 70 to 75 percent of the population is the only surefire way to ensure that a) the virus stops spreading and reappearing b) the government no longer has to curb economic activity and enforce restrictive measures which have clearly harmed larger populations, and almost disproportionately affects the poorest and most vulnerable segments, whether or not these people have contracted the virus.
But vaccinating 75 percent of the population is a colossal undertaking that could take years. The good news is that Covid-19 is the devil we know now and in theory we can fight. The government needs to mobilize significant funds for mass immunizations – sending as many and as quickly as possible – while mobilizing efforts to organize a steady supply of vaccines from private sector actors so that more people can choose to get them. vaccinate in case the government is unable. to reach them, which is the most likely scenario at the moment.