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Responding to COVID-19: Reflections & Lessons from Kerala, India & China

Date & Time: January 14, 2021 at 05:30 pm

Panellists: Mr Rajeev Sadanandan IAS (Retd), Dr KN Raghavan, Dr Reuben Abraham, Mr Muraleedharan Nair, Mr PK Hormis Tharakan IPS (Retd)

Moderator: Dr D Dhanuraj

Proceedings Report

About the Event: A team at the Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR), led by Mr Muraleedharan Nair (Senior Fellow of CPPR and former Indian Consul in China) did a comparative study of the COVID-19 outbreak response of two administrative divisions of similar status, i.e., the State of Kerala in India and the province of Hubei in China. The study has captured the responses to the coronavirus outbreak in the respective regions during the period the first case was reported up until the day both the entities brought it down to zero, even if temporarily, particularly in the case of Kerala. The study has assessed various elements featured in the response systems of the two regions during the above-mentioned period. The webinar brought together distinguished panellists, representing government, academia and an international public health organisation, to discuss their thoughts on the paper and share their experiences on the COVID-19 outbreak responses as vital stakeholders.

The Panellists:

  • Mr Rajeev Sadananadan IAS (Retd), CEO of Health Systems Transformation Platform, Honorary Advisor to the Chief Minister of Kerala on management of COVID-19, and former Additional Chief Secretary of Government of Kerala in-charge of Health and Family Welfare)
  • Dr KN Raghavan IRS (Chairman and Executive Director of Rubber Board, Government of India)
  • Dr Reuben Abraham (CEO of IDFC Foundation and IDFC Institute)
  • Mr Muraleedharan Nair (Senior Fellow, CPPR and former Indian Consul in China )
  • Mr PK Hormis Tharakan IPS (Retd), (Advisor to CPPR and former Chief of Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), and Director General of Police of Kerala)
  1. Mr Nair introduced the paper by drawing a comparative analysis of the COVID-19 responses of the two administrative regions of similar status, namely the State of Kerala, India and the province of Hubei, China.
  2. He mentioned that the Kerala government’s approach was said to be led by the people’s effort and focused on cash transfers and distribution of kits. The Chinese approach was different as they hypothesised that the cash transfers would be saved. Instead, they provided cash vouchers that could be redeemed while making purchases and was meant to keep consumption high. The relief given to the industry was also different as they tried to minimise the number of lay-offs to keep the workers calm.
  3. His two important takeaways from the Chinese approach were their strong use of technology such as social credit systems, including a holistic database of the citizens and the use of Traditional Chinese Medicine (the Chinese equivalent of Ayurveda) to boost immunity.
  4. Dr Abraham reflected on his experience about the COVID-19 taskforce and the Vietnamese and Taiwanese response to the pandemic, which functioned under a democratic regime. By December, the Taiwanese had a strategy in place that came into effect by January. He also talked about bringing together 175 experts from around the globe to help and advise state and federal governments, with 70 researchers backing their efforts.
  5. Dr Raghavan noted [1] that it is important to understand that the literature produced in the Chinese context is state-regulated and therefore there was an initial delay in information alerting the other nations to take a timely response.
  6. Mr Sadananadan pointed out that the Chinese have a 95 per cent coverage of the public healthcare system and are masters of public health campaigns, by giving an example of the anti-schistosomiasis campaign. He also touched upon the e-health records of Taiwan that assimilates the data collected by various agencies.
  7. Dr Abraham emphasised the importance of data governance practices and how they vary across states. In the context of his research on Dharavi in Mumbai, he pointed out that it is not density but the crowding that is a factor influencing the spread. He substantiated it by giving the examples of highly densely populated cities of Tokyo, Taipei and Auckland in comparison to London and New York. He stressed on the need to have a multi-disciplinary approach to risk preparedness office and risk management by aligning both the public sector and the private sector to pool in resources.
  8. Dr Raghavan analysed the weakening of the WHO and the vacuum among the global leadership in tackling the pandemic. He emphasised the role of independent media observers as crucial actors in mobilising resources and sharing best practices.
  9.  Mr Sadananadan addressed the issue of resumption of businesses and how crucial it is at this point for individual businesses to resume work.
  10. Dr Raghavan addressed the relationship between the stock market and recession. The relief packages and the interest rate cuts trickle back to the stock market, raising the stock prices. He noted that unlike India, the impact of the pandemic in China has been limited to a few places, therefore the production is likely to continue due to sunk costs as well as the BRI and other regional partnerships that are still ensuring their status quo in terms of trade. However, the expansionary programmes of the global industry are likely to move out of China and closer to their bases.
  11. Mr Tharakan concluded the session with his insights on the public health campaign.

This report was prepared by Angira Shukla, Policy Articleship Intern, CPPR.

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