South Asia: The Successful Strategy Against COVID-19

When the coronavirus started to spread from China the world turned its eyes toward South Asia looking as if it is going to be the next hub, with potentially millions of deaths. And there is nothing wrong in this thought, as there are many reasons cementing this belief. South Asia is fragmented over with a larger population of middle-class families and it does not a well-developed health care system. Here, absolute poverty is high and nutrition levels are low.

But the countries of South Asia – Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka understood the danger of the situation and took it seriously, started adopting precautionary measures such as going into the lockdown. Where India is still in the lockdown from March 24. Nepal also extended lockdown to May 7. Bangladesh including others are in lockdown and now even Pakistan also have to declare a complete lockdown. Lockdowns, social distancing measures and the pro-active response of the government helped these countries to get better.

Looking at the U.S. and Europe the condition in South Asia is well under control. The U.S is suffering from the biggest crisis of the history with cases of infection reaching over 1,050,000 and death toll have crossed 60,000 marks. Condition of Europe is also very painful, in Italy, the death toll has crossed 27,000, in Spain, it is 24, 000, in France it is 24,000. (Figures at 30 April) There is a long list. To sum up, Europe is now turning its playgrounds into graveyards due to lack of space in the existing one.

Lockdown wipes out handicraft trade as exports in Nepal/ Kathmandu Post

Surely, this means that if the virus would have entered South Asia at a first instance, it would have created more havoc than the U.S. and Europe. Countries such as Bangladesh, India and Pakistan where the cities are densely packed and any negligence could have caused huge death numbers. So what are those strategies which have still now able to save these nations.

Time and Management emerged as a key player in this regard. South Asia got some time and learning from others to know how to respond to this unknown enemy. The number of cases in South Asian countries are well controlled like Bhutan has only 7 cases with no deaths. Same with Nepal, which has 57 cases. The risk is with three countries, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. Here, the maximum number of cases is in India. As of today (30 April) cases have reached 30,000 mark and the death toll is around 1000. However, when counted to per capita the situation is still under control as India is home to 1.3 billion people.

India has till now has been able to respond in a very responsible way. It has also shown a way to the rest of South Asia. From providing treatment to the food supply the efforts are recommendable. It is helping various other nations with the supply of critical medicine including the Hydroxychloroquine.

Demography also favours South Asia. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are among the youngest countries in the world, with 62.5% of its population in the age group of 15-59 years. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have experienced relatively high economic growth for several years so it will not be a difficult task for them to cope up when compared to other parts of the world.

However, there are certain issues that are escalating the problem or may turn the efforts made till now into the crushed paper. India has porous borders with neighbours such as Bangladesh and Nepal that makes it more susceptible to the spread of infection. However, these borders have been sealed but there are many people who are trying to cross it through illegal means. On the other hand, Pakistan is not stopping its terror game. It has increased insurgency activities against India, instead of tackling with coronavirus on its land. 

South Asia has to face severe economic impacts. Economic growth will be zero or may go negative. Many private-sector jobs will vanish away. There will be a huge impact on the lives of the people who are self-employed or in petty jobs as 90% of the population of South Asia comes under this ambit. The infrastructural project will get delayed or many may be cancelled. All the countries have to come forward in this regard. Only self-development cannot built a system which will enable the benefits to be utilised alone, but mutual support is required. Cooperation is the key and that will help each other to maintain the stability of the region.

There is huge migration within the South Asian countries. These mostly include the labourers and small businessman, who now have got stuck in their place of work and now they are unemployed due to the lockdown. The governments must provide them with proper assistance. They want to return back to their homes but cannot be possible soon. But as the number of cases will decrease focus should be given to get them back to their work.

People waiting to get relief supplies provided by local community amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Dhaka. Mahmud Hossain Opu/Al Jazeera

South Asia may get away from this soon but it should prepare itself from the upcoming dangers. It could be an epicentre of any next outbreak. That outbreak may be more severe than the present one. When that will strike, there could be uncountable deaths. Lessons should be learned from this pandemic. They should be challenged and re-framed according to the structural presence. Health care system should be developed in such a way that it is accessible to everyone.

Public spending on health in India and other South Asian countries is barely 1% of their GDP, when compared with countries like France and Germany which spend 10%, the gap is very large. However, only spending alone doesn’t work, as this has also proved in the case of COVID-19. There needs to be a serious discussion on resetting the priorities. There is a need for huge investments in scientific research so that the development of disease control measures could take place.    

A similar version of this article was published originally at South Asia Monitor

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Kootneeti Team

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Shubham Singh

Shubham Singh is a Research Analyst at The Kootneeti. His area of research includes India’s Foreign Policy and Disarmament Studies. He can be reached on shubhamin94@gmail.com

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1 Response

  1. Ankita Yadav says:

    Well analysed.. 👏

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