The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic buckled the country for many weeks. We may have passed the peak, but are still struggling with rising infection rates in many parts of the country, a severe vaccine shortage, and a rocky road to ‘vaccines for all’.

With our health systems tested to their seams and thousands of lives lost in a struggle to reach hospitals or access oxygen, what is more daunting is the complete absence of lessons learnt from the responses during the first wave. The country has failed to acknowledge and correct the biases in the first wave’s responses against people based on their class, gender, caste, and geographic location. Instead, the state response to the second wave only exacerbates these exclusions. We outline three kinds of biases that surfaced during the first wave, and continue to remain unaddressed during this wave: a bias against the marginalised, an urban bias, and a technology bias.

Economist Jayati Ghosh analyses how the response strategy during the first wave of the COVID-19 crisis utterly neglected the plight of people from marginalised sections of society. She underlines that the policy actions—ranging from the lockdowns to the economic relief packages—were devised with a parochial view, relying on limited sources of information. Reference points for policymaking were starkly ignorant of ground realities. As a result, these measures disproportionately affected women, people belonging to the working class, and marginalised caste communities. Also, the economic relief packages during these distressing times increased the liquidity in the markets instead of improving the buying capacity of the poor. As a result, the low-income groups and labour-intensive sectors of the economy couldn’t be rescued from the crisis.

Steps such as nationwide lockdowns were made with an assumption that all families across the country live in nicely-built houses and maintain enough savings to survive for days even in the absence of livelihood opportunities. Or, that homes are ‘safe’ for all people, ignoring ground realities about homes as sites of violence, especially for women and queer people. No wonder then that such measures led to widespread exclusions and added to the innumerable agonies among the weaker sections of society.

Read the full article about bias impacting India's COVID-19 recovery by Rohan S Katepallewar and Vani Viswanathan at India Development Review.