Coping with Covid: Why our lives will never be the same again
India Today Editor-in-Chief talks about the social impact of the pandemic and how it has affected a wide swathe of society, in the August 10, 2020 edition of the India Today Magazine.
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More than four months after India formally began its battle with the coronavirus, we have crossed 1.5 million Covid-19 cases. We now have the dubious distinction of being the country with the third-highest number of Covid-19 cases after the US (4.5 million) and Brazil (2.5 million). The silver lining, if you could call it that, are our comparatively low fatalities—we have lost 34,398 persons as compared to 152,000 deaths in the US. The recovery rate—nearly 1 million Indians have recovered from the disease so far—is another factor that strikes a faint note of optimism. The coronavirus is likely to be with us for many months—perhaps even years. For most of us who haven’t lived through a world war or the Great Depression, this is a once-in-a-century kind of global event that has spared none from its clutches.
We have done 14 cover stories on Covid-19 this year, covering its impact on every aspect, from health to the economy. Our 15th cover story on the subject looks at the social impact of the pandemic and how it has affected a wide swathe of society — the young, the middle-aged and the senior citizens. Those between their 30s and 50s, fairly well-settled in life, are under stress because they have either seen salary cuts or have lost jobs. Senior citizens, confined because they are in a high-risk category, have a different set of problems, from loneliness to separation from their kin. But it is Generation Z—those born between 1995 and 2012—who will bear the brunt of the pandemic. Over half a billion Indians are under the age of 29, nearly double the population of the United States. This has been a particularly stressful year for them as they have seen all four pillars of their lives — career prospects, personal freedom, money and relationships — come crashing down. Being deprived of certainty at the very age you are on the threshold of exiting your student years and entering the world of adulthood is leaving a permanent impact on many. Psychiatrists fear young people who are lonely might be three times more likely to develop depression in the future, and that the impact of loneliness on mental health could last for at least nine years.
India Today August 10, 2020 cover, Coping with Covid.
The deprivation of a visible future is what academics predict will influence this generation’s outlook towards life. A recent study of 4,599 urban youth in Indian metros saw one in two respondents confide that ‘insecurity about their future’ was their foremost worry.
The economic future is bleak. In June, the IMF predicted that the Indian economy will contract by 4.5 per cent. A downturn impacts job creation and is particularly harsh on the 20 to 24-year-olds entering the job market. A survey by a jobs portal highlighted how Covid has impacted campus placements in 80 per cent of India’s colleges. Sixty-six per cent of the students did not receive their offer letters, and of those who were hired, 44 per cent saw their joining dates being deferred while another 33 per cent were waiting to hear from their employers. The Consumer Pyramids Household Survey released by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy in May shows that youngsters in the 20-24 age group made up 11 per cent of the 120 million people who lost their jobs in the one month since the lockdown was imposed on March 25. The impact of this job squeeze will be felt by the class of 2021 when they enter the job market.
There is, of course, a positive side to their struggle as our cover story, ‘The Covid Generation’, written by Associate Editor Sonali Acharjee discovered. Generation Z has been coping well and reskilling. In the early 1980s, we had the ‘yuppies’—young, upwardly mobile professionals. Four decades later, we could well be looking at the ‘toughies’—those who not only survived the pandemic but also came up tops. Executive Editor M.G. Arun and Deputy Editor Shwweta Punj examined the anxiety and uncertainty among the 30-50 age group while Associate Editor Romita Datta studied the impact of the pandemic on the elderly.
Over the centuries, the way we live has frequently changed with the advent of new technology, be it electricity, automobiles, air travel, mobile telephones or, more recently, the internet. These are changes of choice for convenience. The economies of the world fluctuate, but the changes in lifestyle are not permanent. In recent times, two events have made us change our lives dramatically. The first was the rise of international terrorism as symbolised by the attack on the twin towers on September 11, 2001. It changed forever air travel and our whole outlook on security. It also resulted in an exponential increase in the surveillance by the State on its citizens. Now, it is Covid-19. Our lives will never be the same again even if there is a successful vaccine. The fear of infection will be a constant even as some of the changes it has brought about, like work from home and wearing masks, become standard practice. As of now, it seems the pandemic will clearly get a lot worse before it gets better. We will also be dealing with its economic and social consequences for many years to come.
Time then to get used to the New Normal.
(India Today Editor-in-Chief's note for the cover story, The Covid Generation, for August 10, 2020)