Covid-19 Lockdown: Two Things Govt Needs To Do To Make It Work
Whenever the Prime Minister (PM) addresses the nation at 8 pm, it is anticipated with great trepidation. Twice, it triggered enormous panic. On 8th November 2016, when he announced the debilitating demonetisation of currency, and again on 24 March 2020, when he put the country into a drastic 21-day lockdown to beat the coronavirus. 
 
In both instances, the decision had great public support. People supported demonetisation in the mistaken belief that it would wipe out black money; instead it dealt a blow to economic growth that we are still to recover from. This time too, the nation is willing to stand with the PM in this tough action. 
 
Unfortunately, like in demonetisation, this time too, it is the poorest people—migrant labour, daily wage workers and small and the self-employed that are bearing the brunt of the decision announced, without adequate preparation or attention to detail. 
 
Relief Package
On  24th March, the PM announced a paltry Rs15,000 crore allocation to strengthen India’s health infrastructure to deal with Covid-19. This was a day after Rs20,000 crore was allocated for a wasteful revamp of New Delhi’s majestic central vista), It was only on 26th March that finance minister (FM) has announced a more comprehensive, Rs 1.7 lakh crore relief package that included medical workers and weaker sections of society.  For all others, the relief so far, is mainly in terms of additional time for filing returns and a reduction in penalties for late filing of certain tax deductions. 
 
It is already evident that this is not going to be enough. The initial package doesn’t cover all those who are affected, especially the massive disruption of small businesses whose revival is crucial to restart economic growth. The FM’s announcements so far have been mainly for those who have Jan-Dhan accounts, or are existing beneficiaries of some state schemes. We know for a fact that these do not cover all Indians and there are plenty of glitches in the delivery process. 
 
A lot more needs to be done for small entrepreneurs, self-employed professionals and others who are going to have a harrowing time paying equated monthly instalments (EMIs) on home loans and other borrowings. They need forbearance and time to make payments without affecting their credit scores. No announcements have been made in this regard. (This column was written before the RBI announcements on 27th March) It is extraordinary for the PM to exhort employers to pay salaries, without any concessions to smaller employers whose businesses have been shut down or disrupted for over a month. 
 
Poor Planning + Police Violence
The pandemic needs to be tackled with far greater planning, empathy and deeper connect with people, who are fighting to come to terms with an unforeseen calamity. Instead we have the opposite. There are heart-rending images from across India of the police resorting to indiscriminate violence and humiliating people.
 
Employees who are clearly exempted under the lockdown notification, including doctors and bankers have been harassed and beaten on their way to work. A man out to buy milk in Bengal reportedly died due to the police beating. 
 
They stoppage of notified essential commodities being sold, disrupted supply chains of essential commodities by beating up of employees and brought even large, organised delivery networks to a halt. While this was happening, twitter handles of several bureaucrats and the police were confidently assuring people of doorstep delivery. Large e-tailers, such as Amazon, BigBasket, Grofers and others, had not restarted operations on Thursday, mainly because outstation workers have left in large numbers and cannot return. Getting them back during the lockdown will remain a challenge, even while these distributors have plenty of supplies at their suburban distribution hubs. The worry is what happens in a couple of weeks when existing stock begins to dry up?
 
 
In Delhi, the police were seen destroying carts carrying fresh vegetables, instead of getting them organised to maintain social distancing. 
 
The worst affected were migrant workers. Overnight, several lakh people had lost their jobs and their fragile resources. The sealing of state borders, stoppage of trains and buses has left them homeless and without resources; most of them are sole bread-earners for families living in the poorest villages of India.  
 
While well-to-do Indians stranded abroad have had special planes sent for their rescue (and many of them have also transmitted Covid-19 by being irresponsible about quarantine rules), there have been no arrangements to take migrant workers back to Orissa, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Bengal. 
 
 
There are troubling stories from across India about police brutality unleashed on hapless persons trying to find their way back to their homes across state borders.
 
 
To make the lockdown work, the state needs to do two things: rein in the police and involve the NGOs in the outreach, by drawing upon funds available for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
 
Involve the NGOs
The government cannot handle a calamity of this magnitude on its own. It will require support and cooperation from all quarters. This has to be facilitated through dialogue rather than a top-down orders or obdurate bureaucracy.
 
In fact, the government will have to work with non government organisations (NGOs) who have feet-on-the ground. At a time when the government is yet set up the economic task force to deal with Covid-19, announced by the PM,  several NGOS have already sprung into action to help the distressed. Consider just one example. FM Nirmala Sitharaman announced relief measures on 26th March, which will kick-in only from 1st April, but organisations such as  YUVA (Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action) and others have been out distributing sustenance packets of uncooked rations to the distressed for three days already.  
 
Hunger is an immediate issue for the poor, especially for those with small children or older parents to look after. They cannot possibly wait for 1st April.
 
 
Ironically, NGOs and charitable trusts have been the focus of extraordinarily tough regulation, increased red-tape, re-registration requirements and punitive action in the past few years, and especially under the finance bill cleared by parliament in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. 
 
The government has to realise that it needs these very NGOs and trusts to reach help and relief to the poorest Indians, if a well-intentioned lockdown to contain a pandemic is not to lead to bigger humanitarian issues including starvation etc. 
 
Change the CSR rules 
The government has done well to permit companies to use mandatory CSR (corporate social responsibility) funds to fight COVID-19. But a lot more needs to be done. Noshir Dadrawala, head of the Centre for Advancement of Philanthropy says that there is a “bigger need to relax existing rules and guidelines to enable companies to contributing their own products (particularly medicines, medical equipment, essential supplies, protective gear, hygiene products like soaps, hand-wash and hand-sanitizers and medicine).”  
 
Yes, current rules forbid a Hindustan Lever from dispensing free soap or sanitisers under CSR. Or pharma companies to distribute medicine, gloves or protective gear under CSR, even if they are capable of re-packaging it in bulk for quick supplies without worrying about costs. 
 
While the rules may have been intended to prevent companies passing off a portion of their sales as charity, it has a negative impact on giving.  The need for such draconian conditions is illogical, as is ‘mandatory CSR’ forced on corporates, not only without tax benefits but with elaborate reporting requirements. 
 
Instead of optimising charity, forcing companies to do charity in unrelated areas has only increased cost of intermediation and is creating self-important bureaucrats in corporate India to dole out funds without a real connect. It has sadly reduced the genuine NGOs, who are engaged in actual out reach to the distressed and disadvantaged into becoming ‘implementing agencies’ who have to look up to corporate executives for funding and largesse. Mandatory CSR had also dried up a lot of informal lending to such small NGOs, because they are unable to comply with the bureaucratic documentation, proposals and reporting requirements that are taking up more and more time and resources away from real work. It is time to suspend this nonsense, at least until we have beaten the pandemic.
 
So huge is this crisis that the government needs to facilitate everybody who wishes to contribute to the revival effort NGOs engaged in consumer welfare or education do not have COVID related activities as part of their stated mandate, but they must be encouraged to go beyond their trust deeds or articles of association and engage in relief work for the next six to eight months (without fear of harassment later) when their regular activities have come to a halt due to the lockdown.
 
A responsive government that will focus on action rather than elaborate media briefings, punctuated with self-praise, is what needed today. Ordinary people are doing a lot without fanfare or expectation; it is time the government shows the humility to empower them. 
 
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    COMMENTS

    vaibhavdhoka

    3 months ago

    PM's intentions are and were only in the interest of fellow public,but this time it was abruptly announced without taking note of migrants and daily wage earners.This laid to chaos as eventhough packages are announced it takes weeks to enforce.Migrants care is must or else corona will be superseded by casualty due to starvation and no medical reach.

    REPLY

    B. V. KRISHNAN

    In Reply to vaibhavdhoka 3 months ago

    This kind of measure has to be done abruptly. Otherwise it will lead to even worse chaos - people flocking markets, passengers crowding bus stands etc. Migrant care is essential, but more essential is the urgent need to flatten the curve of the disease spread. PM has repeatedly exhorted all employers to pay their employees for the lock-out period. One should give time for all these things to settle down..instead of jumping the gun and adding to the panic!

    adityag

    3 months ago

    Good video!

    My two cents: this is an unprecedented time in history and there's no template for responding to a pandemic. Too many unknown variables that can pan out in any number of directions. It's scary.

    Yes, I agree with you that Govt needs to do better. Trust is the key at this time, especially with NGOs. If this can be bridged, then things are likely to fall into place.

    One thing is for certain: this pandemic will be a catalyst for total reforms, change in our approach, change in bureaucracy & governance, and our mindset -- all for the better.

    Stay safe!

    Mir Mazen Ali

    3 months ago

    Standard of journalism in india is at all time low this is adding to the economic suffering of the country. Media is busy with hindu muslim mandir masjid and pakistan, As a citizen of India I want my country to progress and media to raise questions relevant to our economy rather than pointless comparisons with pakistan. But I am glad that there are few people and organisations like Moneylife who are actually raising real issues of economy and spreading awareness.

    chittaranjansahu1997

    3 months ago

    Thank

    B. V. KRISHNAN

    3 months ago

    You are damned if you do, and damned if you dont! This is the attitude of Modi-baiters and I am sorry Money Life has joined their bandwagon. If Didi's [policemen beat up a person in West Bengal, can you blame Modi for it? Several countries are now suffering for not adopting a hard approach in the beginning, including UK an US. In a vast country like ours, it is impossible to prepare for everything before announcing drastic measures. These are special times, and special measures are called for. Instead of nitpicking, this is the time to rally behind the efforts to contain the spread of the disease. Sorry Moneylife has let the country down by publishing this irresponsible article.

    REPLY

    Meenal Mamdani

    In Reply to B. V. KRISHNAN 3 months ago

    You are being unfair to Ms Dalal.
    We readers trust her articles because she does not toe any political line, criticizing or lauding as the situation demands.
    Yes, she could have praised Modi's dramatic move comparing it to Bolsonaro's non-action.
    But compared to other countries whose leaders put in place mechanisms to help ordinary people adjust to the lock down, Modi falls short.

    B. V. KRISHNAN

    In Reply to Meenal Mamdani 3 months ago

    Please be specific. What are the "arrangements" other countries put in place to help people affected by lock down? In India also, Govt has announced several measures to help such people. I am not asking anyone to praise Modi. Moneylife's brand equity is based on criticizing the establishment, which, in normal times, is quite laudable. But in a crisis situation, one has to be circumspect, knowing well that you could shape public response.

    sucheta

    In Reply to B. V. KRISHNAN 3 months ago

    If you don't like what we right you can always ignore it. But if you seriously believe that the lack of food or ANY arrangements for migrants in a country with our level of poverty is fine, you are entitled to your views. Allow me to voice my opinion. As for 'arrangements' by other countries - please do take a look at several of them - it is in the public domain. Yes some have failed to act in time -- Italy, UK even Spain - but is that what you are comparing India with?

    B. V. KRISHNAN

    In Reply to sucheta 3 months ago

    So, you are giving your readers two choices: either like what I write, or ignore it. In other words, "like it or lump it". But there is a third choice : criticize it. I thought with all the halla-bulla about free speech, this third choice is equally important. But sorry, if I am mistaken.

    itpalkavora123

    3 months ago

    i almost agree with your article - its a bad decisions , some relief for 4-5 days should be given - many seniors are stranded in between and don't have food and staying facilities ! or it should be pure advisory for lock down - those who loves life will not venture out ! make it simple so that economy don;t suffer ! idhar bhi maut and udhar bhi maut , better is let economy work and that maut is thousands time better than this lockdown and economic effect maut !

    narayansa

    3 months ago

    I sometimes wonder whether all these international alerts and panic and press briefings are not simply an extreme over reaction to a sickness with a lower infection spread rate than smallpox, measles and HIV+. Besides the fatality rate is 0% for ages 0-9, 0.25% for ages 10-50, 8% for ages 51-70, and 14.8% for ages 85+
    I do not ever recall such reactions to smallpox, measles or HIV+. Moreover experts say that 85% of the cases would get cured naturally through the body's immune system. Probably more people will suffer and perhaps die due to side effects of lockdown than due to the virus. What is though disconcerting is the speed of spread. Whether a more targetted strategy focussing on international travel and the isolation of such travellers would have sufficed? But that's hindsight. If after 21 days, the flattening of the curve does not happen then a more well thought through strategy needs to be planned for, now itself with broad based consultation, keeping in mind social consequences of all options. Simply extending the lockdown on fond hopes would be disasterous for the country.

    yesdkadam

    3 months ago

    Appriciate your concern for the poor.

    hamungel

    3 months ago

    Excellent Analysis! I hope your suggestions regarding CSR are implemented.

    REPLY

    sucheta

    In Reply to hamungel 3 months ago

    Many thanks

    alok.asthana

    3 months ago

    Since we've elected him, he has the right to do what he thinks is the best option. But, how about thinking it through? What about some planning of possible scenarios and taking care of them? All options, including the one he has adopted, as doable but ONLY IF all likely contingencies of that option are taken care of. This guy just gets up in the morning, thinks of what will make him look like a tough man and announces. No thinking through, no planning, no sympathy for the poor and weak. Just headlines management.

    REPLY

    DVN

    In Reply to alok.asthana 3 months ago

    how do you know that Mr. Modi gets up one morning and decides on his own? By all accounts he has been interacting with experts and has decided the course of action which is very negative for country's economy. It has been acknowledged that the extreme step taken by him is accordingly to the present situation in the country. Critics will critisise inspite of whether action or not

    B. V. KRISHNAN

    In Reply to DVN 3 months ago

    Agree. It is so easy to pass comments like Mr Asthana. To think that such a serious decision has been taken so casually is insulting the intelligence of the entire Indian community. Shame!

    suketu

    In Reply to alok.asthana 3 months ago

    well summed up Modi.Specialist is destoying citizens happiness in every which way.

    Meenal Mamdani

    3 months ago

    Ms Dalal, every thing you say is on the mark.

    We need many organizations like Money Life Foundation, focused on exposing the problems in different areas of the Indian society, the way MLF focuses on financial chicanery.

    We should start with making the voluntary non-governmental organizations easier to set up and operate for people who want to tackle the problems in Indian society.

    The politicians are afraid of what such organizations uncover and publicize, that is why politicians want to tie the NGOs with so many onerous requirements that all their time is taken up with meeting these convoluted and totally unnecessary rules.

    REPLY

    sucheta

    In Reply to Meenal Mamdani 3 months ago

    Thank you Meenal

    nsipwr

    3 months ago

    Modi should not have been re elected he favours the rich only attending wedding of Virat Kohli
    Giving preference to Jio and destroying BSNL
    Yes bank scam favoured this bank and leaving PMC bank
    Demonitisation 8th Nov 2016
    Lock down 24th March 2020
    Police brutality
    Lack of planning GST
    Raising excuse duty of petrol and diesel when crude is 15 year low
    Selling all Govt companies and ensuring that it is privatised.
    Rafal issue not known yet

    veereshmalik

    3 months ago

    a) police brutality happens.
    b) media uproar
    c) policeman suspended
    d) media moves on
    e) complainant offered a demeaning settlement or else
    f) repeat again

    col.bogeyrathore

    3 months ago

    dharuwalla prediction : GDP will be impacted ny 'negative' 200 bps.
    5 hollwood stars will soon get covid +. this will boost pharma stocks.
    modi will be hiv+ last terminal case very soon

    adityag

    3 months ago

    Good article. I agree with you. I think we lack a good system to deal with exigencies like this one (and to be fair, most countries lack this, even the United States as we're seeing now). In a way, this pandemic has exposed the vulnerabilities and shortcomings in our systems & regulations (and to some extent the mindset of our society as a whole). We're going to have to rethink a lot of things when everything settles down.

    REPLY

    sucheta

    In Reply to adityag 3 months ago

    Thanks Aditya

    COVID-19: Join NGO YUVA ‘s Effort to Support Vulnerable Communities in Mumbai
    India’s COVID-19 count is now nearing 400 and Maharashtra’s count is now nearly 100. Taking other countries afflicted by the virus as an example, experts believe that we are now in a critical stage and containing the spread of the virus will be crucial in the coming weeks.
     
    Our vast communities of poor, underprivileged people are most vulnerable during this time and one non-profit organisation, Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action (YUVA) has stepped up in support. 
     
     
    People who are homeless or daily wage earners who have lost jobs, have been unable to procure basic food and other essential items. With a city like Mumbai, there are several households who are surviving on little or no food. Over the past few days, YUVA has been reaching out to low-income and vulnerable communities, to understand the situation and offer support. They have rapidly assessed over 20 settlements across 4 cities in the Greater Mumbai area – Vasai Virar, Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Panvel, covering more than 1,500 families and revealed that some communities are in dire need of support. 
     
    Some groups that were already vulnerable, such as the homeless and individuals from disadvantaged communities, are almost on the brink of starvation. Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) centres or anganwadis, where children between the age of 0-6 years are provided basic nutrition have stopped daily food supplies in many areas. With schools being closed for the last few days, mid day meals for such children have also stopped. 
     
    YUVA’s early assessment of the situation has helped identify the needs of such communities and they have in turn launched a campaign, ‘Together We Can’, to raise funds and support in the form of food grains, offering emergency relief to the urban poor. They have started this support giving priority to the most marginalised families first, which have been identified through a rigorous process. 
     
    YUVA has now been providing families with a basic food kit in quantities meant for a week’s worth of ration per package. This package costs Rs600 and includes 5kg rice, 2kg wheat flour, 2kg dal, 1 litre cooking oil and soap. They has already distributed basic provisions to 200 homeless families, comprising more than 1,000 individual and are continuing this support each day only through donations made in support of this campaign. 
     
     
    The organisation has also maintained their advocacy efforts with the government to take forward demands of these vulnerable communities. YUVA has submitted an unequivocal list of demands to the Government of Maharashtra, in light of work and sources of income being impacted, closure of schools and ICDS centres, and forced eviction notices being sent to informal settlements. Their demands include a relief fund for daily wage workers, ensuring steady supply of take-home rations and much more.
     
    YUVA’s fundraising efforts are ongoing and they are currently accepting support in the form of cash and essential items (food grains and non-perishable foods only). 
     
    Moneylife Foundation would be joining this effort to help spread the message and allow its members, who are concerned about the plight of those who have lost their livelihoods to donate to the cause. Moneylife Foundation is also working to source  supplies and connecting with other leading corporate NGOs to streamline the process. 
     
    Although we expect the government of India to step forward and take care of the lowest end of the pyramid, it will probably take time for direct benefit transfer or the increased supply of food through the public distribution system to be ramped up in a crisis. The need is to help out until the government machinery starts functioning and to plug any remaining gaps later. 
    We will keep you  updated about other ways in which you can donate. 
     
    To support the campaign monetarily, please follow the following steps – 
    1. As an Indian national you can donate to:
    Payee Name: Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action (YUVA) FCRA
    Bank: Axis Bank Savings Account
    Branch: Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, Maharashtra
    Account no.: 911010054680968
    IFSC code: UTIB0000489
     
    2. Send a screenshot of the payment you have made through WhatsApp on +91 9830795695 or +91 9167723237. You can also send a Direct Message (DM) to their social media handles on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. This will allow them to confirm and send an acknowledgment receipt. 
     
    3. On receiving confirmation you shall be sent a separate donor form to fill as YUVA needs some basic mandatory details to remain transparent in their financial reporting.
     
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    India to Provide Rs1.70 Lakh Crore Relief Package to Weaker Section; Doctors, Nurses, Paramedics Get Rs50 Lakh Medical Insurance Each
    The Indian government on Thursday announced a relief package worth Rs1.70 lakh crore to protect weaker sections of the society from the economic fallout of corona virus (COVID-19). This package announced as part of the Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Yojana will benefit farmers, migrant workers, urban and rural poor, women, and divyang. 
     
    Announcing the financial package, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, also said the frontline warriors like doctors, nurses, paramedics, Asha workers and cleaning workers would be provided a medial insurance worth Rs50 lakh each.
     
    Due to the corona virus outbreak, the FM says, provident fund scheme regulations will be amended. "Workers can draw 75% of deposit or three-month wages, whichever is lower, as non-refundable advance. This will benefit 4.8 crore workers registered with Employees Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO). The union government will also pay contribution of both employer and employee (10% each) - for the next three months, so that nobody suffers due to loss of continuity in EPF. This is for all such establishments, which have less than 100 employees, out of which 90% of whom draw less than Rs15,000 rupees per month as wages or salary," she added.
     
    One-time amount of Rs1,000 rupees will be given to senior citizens, widows and Divyang people, in two installments over the next three months, which, Ms Sitharaman says is expected to benefit three crore people. 
     
    In addition to the 5 kg of wheat or rice, each person to get additional 5 kgs of wheat or rice per person free for the next three months, she says, adding additional 1kg of pulses to be given for each household, so that no poor person goes hungry.
     
    "Today's measures are intended at reaching out to the poorest of the poor, with food and money in hands, so that they do not face difficulties in buying essential supplies and meeting essential needs," she says.

    Under the cash transfer part, the minister said that it will largely be based on direct benefit transfer (DBT) through which farmers, migrant workers, widows, pensioners amongst others will be provided relief.

    For farmers, the first instalment of the Rs6,000 per year given under PM Kisan Yojana will be given at the beginning of the year itself. So Rs2,000 will be provided into the accounts of farmers, a move that will immediately benefit 8.69 crore farmers.

    The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Gurantee Act (MNREGA) wages have also been increased from present Rs182 per day to Rs202. "As a result, we expect Rs20 per worker will be the additional income that will benefit 5 crore families," the minister said.

    Ms Sitharaman also decided to provide cash into the account of three crore senior citizens to help them cope with the current crisis. Accordingly, one time amount of Rs1,000 will be provided in two instalments into their account.

    Also, Ujjawala cooking gas connection holders, over eight crore women now, will get free LPG cylinders for the next three months.

    The 63 lakh women Self help groups (SHGs), that benefits seven crore households, will be provided collateral free loans, under the Deen Dayal National Rural livelihood mission, of Rs20 lakh - double the existing amount of Rs10 lakh.

    In yet another relief measure, the finance minister announced that the government would bear entire 24% EPF contribution of employer and employees for next three months. This support will be for employees of establishments that employ upto 100 employees and wages of 90% of their employees is less than Rs15,000 per month.

    Moreover, about 3.5 crore registered building and construction workers would be provided assistance and support from the Rs31,000 crore welfare funds.

    "We will be giving directions to the state governments to ensure that the fund can be utilised for helping those who are facing economic disruption as a result of this particular lockdown," the FM said.

    The Centre has also requested the state governments to utilise the funds which are available under the district mineral fund for supplementing and augmenting all kinds of medical testing activities, screening activities, and also other requirements, which are so necessary now to fight the coronavirus and from preventing its spread.

    While details on the financing of the package or the fiscal implication have not be provided, CARE Rating says, assuming that the entire Rs1.7 lakh crore is additional expenditure that is to be incurred over the budgeted expenditure for FY2021 (of Rs30.4 lakh crore) and the projected gross domestic product (GDP) is retained, the fiscal deficit would increase by 0.75% from the budget target of 3.5% to 4.3% of GDP.

    "However, given that GDP growth for the year is expected to decline, the fiscal deficit would widen further. If this expenditure is to be met through additional market borrowings it would pressure bond market yields and thereby interest rates," the ratings agency says.

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    COMMENTS

    srinivasan.sundar42

    3 months ago

    HER term " Pensioners " includes ALL or only the weaker sections / BPL ?

    I am a senior citizen , a PSB pensioner ( not a very great pension amount )

    srinivasan.sundar42

    3 months ago

    I REQUEST THE FM TO GET THE INCOME TAX DEPT.,TO IMMEDIATELY RELEASE REFUNDS WHICH HAVE NOT BEEN GIVEN FOR YEARS THOUGH THE RETURNS HAVE BEEN APPROVED . THEY CAN START WITH AMOUNTS WHICH ARE SMALL ,SAY , Rs.50,000.

    Kumar123

    3 months ago

    Very true. We are a country of 150 crores. The acts seem to be done as if everything / everyone is connected, literate, has a home and necessities. First the govt announces and then next day they are thinking of how to give passes to delivery agents. Is 1.7 Lac core worth the lockdown + more announced by the governor today. I am surprised by the opposition leaders too who seem to have meekly accepted without questioning the arrangements. Could it be that the hot climate here was a natural immunity to the coronavirus ? And we just over reacted. Low infection / fatality certainly cannot be credited to our healthcare?

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