Today’s learnings for a better tomorrow

Testing of COVID-19 Virus
Testing of COVID-19 Virus © K.Venkataramana via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Mumbai has always been known for the resilience of its people, for the fighting spirit of its residents in the face of adversity. The COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown that followed provide an apt example. The drastic changes in the socio-political and economic milieu of Mumbai, caused by the pandemic, drove Praja Foundation to conduct a household survey to better analyse its impact.

Two out of three respondents of Praja’s survey said that their livelihood was adversely impacted. The survey shows that 36% had to take leave without pay, 28% worked with a reduced salary, 25% worked without a salary and 13% had extra working hours or were otherwise overburdened.

9% of respondents from Socio-Economic Class A (higher SEC) lost their jobs, with this number rising to 47% for the lowest SEC E. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic impacted the jobs of 80% unskilled workers in the city, with 44% losing employment. Of the 23% respondents who reported migrating out of Mumbai during the lockdown, 57% left due to job losses (80% of whom belonged to SEC E.) It is therefore evident that while the pandemic impacted livelihoods across sectors, the lower socio-economic sections engaged in informal employment were the worst affected. Again, people in the lowest socio-economic classes were the most affected, with daily incomes of respondents falling by 22% in SEC A and 45% in SEC E, respectively. While 47% respondents said they used savings to meet family needs during the lockdown, 71% said that they were not able to save any money during the lockdown period.

In the case of non-COVID healthcare services, more people (58% respondents) accessed private healthcare than public healthcare (40%), likely spending much more than in a public facility. Furthermore, as highlighted in Praja’s State of Health report, 2020, more people had died of non-COVID causes during the lockdown than of COVID itself, reflected in the current survey data, where a majority of respondents who faced difficulty in accessing healthcare cited unavailability of staff/doctors to provide treatment for other diseases (70%) or closure of the health facility (58%) as reasons.

 The survey also showed that while 60% of respondents felt the impact of COVID-19 was compounded by Mumbai’s lockdown, 84% did not speak to anyone about their mental health, highlighting the need for greater awareness and improvement of health services in this field.

In the education sector, survey data shows that both public and private schools, albeit with challenges, have shifted to providing education through online platforms, with adequate training (85% private, 76% public) and regular teacher-parent updates (81% private, 72% public). Online learning also had its adversities, especially in terms of the health of children: 63% said online classes made children physically inactive and irritable (65%), while 43% said their child faced eyesight problems. This is also reflected in the preference of the majority of parents (62%) towards offline education:54% felt it was now safe to send their children to school.

The survey highlighted the urgency for better policy making and planning for the future. The focus, in the immediate term, needs to be on creating avenues and securing livelihoods of the lowest socio-economic sections of the city, who are most affected by the pandemic. For the future, this experience provides cues for better planning of the city: promotion of work-from-home or workspaces near homes, developing more pedestrian spaces and cycling infrastructure and encouraging green transportation for improved mobility. Furthermore, governments need to organise the city’s health and mobility programmes and focus on improving local dispensary services for preventive and primary healthcare. The tracking and monitoring of diseases, births and deaths (including causes of death) should also be improved. Understanding issues that were highlighted due to COVID-19 and leveraging learnings from this experience will be instrumental in improving city governance and quality of life in the post-COVID era.