COVID-19 Pandemic Through Engineer\’s Perspective

The “free world”, typified by the US and UK, initially prioritized business over public health and are now paying the price. Even though there are passenger flights, including repatriation flights, still arriving at UK airports, I do not know whether strict health screening and quarantine measures are in place now, or whether the authorities are still relying on people being “honourable” about undertaking self-quarantine and volunteering information on their movements to facilitate contact tracing. The public health situation in the UK today is dire, with up to 900 people dying of the virus daily, and that is just the number of people testing positive who died in hospitals. Many more are dying in residential care homes and at home, most of which are thought to be due to the virus. If the infection and death rate curves in the UK population of approx. 65 million are replicated in India’s 1.3 billion people, the consequences are unimaginable. Even if it is indeed true that Indians have greater built-in immunity, thanks to a more traditional life style, food habits such as vegetarianism, spiced food, exposure to anti-malarial drugs and universal BCG vaccination; this immunity alone may not suffice to keep infection and deaths within manageable limits.

So, all of you please avoid going out at all and pray that the lockdown measures succeed in mitigating against the worst outcome.

The lockdowns are calling into question many aspects of modern-day living. It is interesting to note reports that just a few weeks of lockdown have dramatically improved air quality in Delhi, made the Himalayas visible again from lowland Punjab, and improved water quality in the Ganga and Yamuna. I wonder if the public will want these benefits retained after coming out of lockdown, and be willing to make the sacrifices required? There may be big battles ahead between pro-environment forces and entrenched vested corporate interests.

I also see a lot on social media extolling ancient practices, vegetarianism, the contribution of garlic, ginger, turmeric, pepper etc to increasing immunity, as well as the immunity-reducing impacts of processed and pre-cooked foods, micro-wave cooking, pharmaceuticals, fertilizers, radiation from mobile phones, wireless devices etc.

Countries as diverse as the UK, Mauritius and India have embarked on previously unthinkable measures such as delivering food and money directly to those who need it. A cynic could claim that this is motivated in part to prevent the less fortunate from infecting the better-off and to pre-empt riots. In the UK, the coronavirus has forced the government to provide housing for the homeless, although many of these were made homeless in the first place by economic austerity measures. The Indian media is praising the communist government of Kerala for its public health and social welfare measures! Maybe previously accepted economic dogma could be turned on its head?

There is certainly need to restore some balance to the logic promoted by leading business schools and privatization initiatives, both of which have resulted in much greater inequality, characterized by entrepreneurs and top private sector executives helping themselves to a disproportionate share of the cake. I for one would be happy to see less PFI and a return to public sector financing of infrastructure. I do not believe that the PFI structure as practised hitherto, benefits long-term public interest, as borne out by my experience working for private sector clients.

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