Omicron casts shadow over economy and elections - GulfToday

Omicron casts shadow over economy and elections

BRP Bhaskar

@brpbhaskar

Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

BJP supporters

India is poised for general elections in 2022, a mega event that could turn into a national crisis due to the spread of COVID-19 infections.

India is gearing up to meet the threat posed by the fast-spreading Omicron variant of the coronavirus which is already playing havoc in some other countries.

By last weekend all but a few states had reported Omicron cases but, mercifully, cases of infections and deaths are very small. However, experts say the third wave of the pandemic may peak in February.

On Monday morning the national Omicron tally was about 500. First-wave COVID-19 cases were at this level when the Central government imposed a harsh countrywide lockdown on a four-hour notice, causing avoidable damage.

The second wave caught the government unprepared. But it quickly remedied the shortages of hospital beds, oxygen cylinders and ventilators.

India cannot afford to take the Omicron threat lightly. It accounts for 34.8 million out of 280 million COVID-19 cases reported worldwide so far and about 480,000 out of 5.4 million deaths. In infections, India is in the second place, next only to the US. In deaths, it is in the third place, after the US and Brazil.

The third wave has come after the country brought the spread of the pandemic under control, aided by the world’s largest vaccination programme and was in the process of lifting the curbs imposed to check it spread. Several states recently allowed schools and colleges to reopen.

Wiser by the experience of the earlier waves, the Central and state government have not taken any precipitate action this time. However, they have appealed to citizens to observe COVID protocols.  

Medical experts have advised caution as the highly transmissible Omicron variant shows frequent mutations.

There are some worrying factors. Only 61 per cent of the adult population has received two vaccinations. About 10 per cent has not taken even one vaccination.

The Centre had not taken any decision on vaccination of children when Omicron reached India. On Saturday night Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that vaccination of children in the 15-18 age group will begin next week. He also said front-line Covid warriors and senior citizens with co-morbidities can get booster doses.

How will the third wave affect India’s hopes of an early economic recovery?

Analysts were expecting the economy, which had witnessed an unprecedented contraction in the wake of the early, harsh lockdown, to bounce back to the pre-pandemic level during the current financial year…

The Union Finance Ministry’s initial assessment is that the impact of the new wave may not be very severe because of the huge vaccination programme.

However, it is too early yet to make a realistic assessment.

Omicron has hit the cities the most. Christmas and New Year celebrations usually attract large crowds in the urban centres. We may, therefore, be in a good position to make a judgment only next month.

The government of Maharashtra, the most industrialised state, has said it may have to go in for a lockdown.

A few weeks ago Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had turned down a suggestion by economists to put more money in people’s hands to boost consumption, saying all that needs to be done has been dome. With healthcare demanding more money, the government may now not be able to find more funds for other needs.

Assembly elections are due in five states, including Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, early in the New Year. Poll campaigns involve mass mobilisations by political parties.

A petitioner has approached the court seeking postponement of the UP elections.

The court asked the Election Commission for its response to the demand. The Commission is now in consultation with political parties on the issue.    

All elections which were due last year were gone through as scheduled, despite the raging pandemic. If the government or the Election Commission has made a proper study of the impact of election-related activities, its findings are not in the public realm.

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