The demographic trajectory of the nCovid-19 pandemic has entered a critical phase in India. Under the current circumstances, going by the WHO standards, it can be classified as being in its second stage, whereby the disease is contained within the local boundaries, and the thread of transmission can be established.
However, given the quantum of population, overworked and unsatisfactory healthcare infrastructure, the sheer intensity of behavioral change required to prevent transmission of the novel coronavirus, India is highly likely to enter the third stage of the disease, when community transmission begins. In such a situation, the implications of the pandemic could be worse than imagined. Even if the future circumstances are weighed lightly, as social scientists, it becomes imperative to deliberate on how the social classes fare out in the face of the nCovid-19 pandemic.
The Government of India announced the restrictions over air travel, rail travel (PIB, 10 March 2020), and several state governments had followed suit either by implementing lockdowns or using legal sanctions to impose a curfew. Nearly all states and authorities have ordered a moratorium on the functioning of non-essential activities, accompanied by advisories to people such as casual laborers, migrants, and students to return to their homes.
Halting the non-essential activities that require any form of person-to-person interaction is the quintessential step and almost a sine qua non for preventing mass transmission of the disease. With this step, avenues that could have served to spread the virus have been blocked and might as well be a very courageous and prudent decision to prevent a situation as critical as Italy happening in India.
However, it needs to be understood to what extent the lockdown/curfew could be sustained successfully before the bare necessities of life force people out of their homes—when staying at home becomes a greater monster compared to going out to eke a living in the risk of getting the disease for them. And who are these people going to be?
It would be gross, naive and insensitive to state that the implications of the pandemic on any section of the society should not be ignored because each class has its own set of problems while dealing with the disease. However, responses within classes are likely to be similar. Nevertheless, humans rarely interact with their environment (epidemiological environment in this case) as an amorphous whole. They always base their decisions and act as members of a community and class.
While the origin of the nCovid-19 remains shrouded in mystery, with absolute conviction, it can be stated that the cross-border spread has primarily been the result of the affluent, with the aviation sector serving as the medium and the affluent class being the carrier. Even in India, the earliest reported cases pertained to considerably wealthy travelers entering India via aviation. In India, it can be safely inferred that the affluent urban class stands the best chances in avoiding the nCovid-19, with enough resources and finance at their disposal, enough space to isolate and quarantine, the capacity to seek medical help in case of infection.
The rural elite might lag in their access to healthcare, but certainly, they can afford to stay indoors for days at a stretch and observe the lockdown. The middle class, which forms the most significant demographic chunk, is likely to play the most decisive role in determining how far and how intensely the pandemic would spread.
Presently, this class appears to be supporting the lockdown, but a large section within this class faces a vast information gap for the state-based strategies to be effective. The pertinent question regarding this class is: how long will it be willing to observe the lockdown, and what would be the consequences once the tipping point is reached?
The relatively poor class of people, both in urban and rural areas, unfortunately, stand to lose the most in situations such as that of a pandemic. They are at a disadvantage both in terms of resources and information. The street vendors, casual laborers, self-employed are at the highest risks, though few states like Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, etc., have also come with various welfare plans for this class. Still, what economic resources they possess and how long will they be able to sustain on it remains doubtful.
Secondly, the information disability that they face might make the pandemic explode within this section. India lacks big time, the social security system to ensure that the weak and poor are adequately cared for in times of crisis, or even otherwise. The Indian economy has already been in a slowdown for a considerable period, and added to that, the large scale shutting down of economic activities in the wake of the pandemic is showing signs of becoming an intolerable financial burden on the public exchequer.
If nCovid-19 reaches its third phase, it is difficult to fathom the circumstances that might arise and whether there would be any strategy to deal with it. The situations that the socially weak and the poor find themselves in makes them the most vulnerable to infection. The most evident instance of such a situation was observed at the bus terminals across the country with people traveling in mass, in the face of the active threat of the pandemic. Even the aftershocks once the pandemic ends would have too high a magnitude for them to absorb.