We see an unfortunate debate since the outbreak of the coronavirus over whether to give preference to saving life first or protecting livelihood. However, it has already been evident from recent policy decisions world over that the countries that give priority to livelihood over life have lost both.
The nations that have given higher value to life struggled initially, economically, but eventually become winners. The best examples are Bhutan, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Australia, Denmark, Norway, Canada, New Zealand and Finland that saw least impacts of Covid-19.
In the first category, Bhutan, Vietnam and also Nepal were closed at early stage with mandatory quarantine of those coming from outside. Countries like New Zealand, Australia and Canada, in the second category, managed to stop spread by strict early border control measures and social distancing. In the third group, Japan, Germany and South Korea took education and health measures such as testing, tracing, isolation, treatment and endowment of resources and attained success. Conversely, in the fourth category, Italy, France, Spain and the UK took belated measures, and paid a high price. US, Mexico, Brazil and Peru belong to the fifth category of countries that focused on livelihoods and lost a lot of lives.
History shows that during pandemics human life often loses out to economic imperatives. Still, crucial lessons should be drawn from past outbreaks. What the economy is for when human lives are lost?
So, the debate over life versus livelihood is meaningless. In today's context, lives need to be saved from pandemic to protect the economy. The country's policymakers need to make prudent decisions to deal with the challenges emanating from the Covid-19 crisis.
Assistant Director at BIGM
Sher-e-Bangla Nagar, Dhaka