When thinking about policy, it is very important to think about probable scenarios.
Let us look at three possible scenarios.
1. The basic assumption: without vaccines, the pandemic cannot be defeated and normalcy will remain elusive.
2. Even with vaccines, it will take a while – say 2-4 years – before we reach herd immunity.
3. The matter will be made more complex by continuing mutation of the virus. The virus will continue to mutate, requiring booster shots at periodic intervals – in such a case, we will not only need to vaccinate 70% of the people but also continue to provide booster shots at annual intervals. In other words, vaccination will have to go on "forever".
In such a plausible scenario, what are our options? In short, we will need to throw everything at our disposal to (a) counter the pandemic, and (b) normalise economic activity. We do not have the option of shutting down for long periods a la the UK or Europe.
First, we should focus on the proper use and disposal of masks.
Move all activities as far as possible (1) online and (2) outdoors. Our budget should subsidise these as a high priority.
Improve ventilation indoors and make hepa-filters mandatory in offices and factories, and affordable for homes.
Carry out research urgently on Ivermectin.
Do not continue to ignore social mobilisation via civil society organisations. This is a grave mistake. Give them resources.
Take a hard look at domestic production of vaccines and expedite.
Make cheap testing available up to the Mudi Dokan level – allow people to take control of their own fates.
However, after all is said and done, there will be wide gaps that will remain unaddressed.
This will require that we ensure that basic medicines and oxygen supplies are made widely and easily available. Our efforts will have to minimise morbidity and mortality but at the same time to allow the economy to function at par. We cannot afford to choose one over the other because such a choice is no choice at all. Without livelihoods (and social security) it would be hard for the majority of our people to sustain life. Thus, formulating the policies in terms of life and livelihoods is fundamentally flawed.
The bottom line is this: feasible alternatives are all inadequate. Therefore, we will just have to do our best. It helps, under these dire circumstances, if corruption and theft are kept really low.
KAS Murshid is the former DG of BIDS