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Issue 12

Delineating the Consumption of Luxury Goods in a COVID-hit World

For its 100th  year celebration in 2021, GUCCI under the creative direction of Alessandro Michele, rolled out its ‘Beloved’ campaign, strategically designed to strengthen the sales of their bags. Initiated on 22nd April 2021, the campaign featured four of GUCCI’s globally beloved bags namely Dionysus, the GG Marmont, Jackie 1961 and the GUCCI Horsebit 1955. The campaign, designed in the form of a late night talk show, had a star-studded lineup which included James Cordon, Dakota Johnson, Harry Styles, Awkwafina, Serena Williams, Sienna Miller and Diane Keaton. The campaign creates a nostalgic talk-show feeling of the 90s where the stars of the show were GUCCI’s four all-time iconic bags themselves.

Luxury brands like Yves Saint Laurent, Cartier, IWC, GUCCI saw a staggering fall in their sales, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The coronavirus first hit China, spreading to Italy and other European nations (home to many luxury labels). This resulted in a steep fall in the sales of luxury goods, due to Chinese customers accounting for a 35%  share in luxury purchases globally. With the pandemic hitting the luxury goods industry all around the world, the impact is expected to be long lasting.

The sales for GUCCI specifically were amongst the worst hit by the virus outbreak due to closure of stores, since China serves as a big market for the luxury brand. In the first quarter of the outbreak in 2020, the sales for the fashion label fell by 23.2%, which makes up for the major revenue for Kering, causing a total fall in its overall sales by 15.4%. However, with its strategic launch of the ‘Beloved’ campaign at the time of ‘unlock’ in Europe, the fashion label is looking to rebound its sales in 2021. 

The year 2021 was expected to bring many more opportunities for these luxury labels in terms of rebounding their sales and launching limited seasonal collections. However, the national lockdowns in the UK and other European nations like Germany, Italy and France during the Spring/Easter season, which brings in a plethora of customers for these luxury brands, continued to create anxiety around the sales of goods. Compared to 2020, these luxury brands were better braced to tackle the 2021 lockdown, due to sales and purchases moving to digital platforms. The lockdown also cut down tourist shoppers that contributed massively towards the sales revenue. Moreover, as per VOGUE Business, these international tourists are not expected to return before mid 2022, and the latest lockdowns do not show any improvements in these forecasts. 

Empty Via Montenapoleone (Milan’s largest luxury shopping street) in Italy
Image Courtesy: Bloomberg Quint

Since the outset of the pandemic last year, there have also been dramatic and accelerating changes in consumer behaviour and consumption in regards to luxury shopping. Simultaneously, as a result, fashion labels have had to customize products and campaigns to keep up with the market trends and consumer behavior catering to the needs of their loyal clientele.

More and more shoppers have been turning to online shopping in place of in-person visits to physical stores, given the perturbations of contracting the virus. Moreover, according to the Boston Consulting Group, the pandemic has made apparent the deep economic and social inequalities that exist within the society, making less people comfortable with the show of conspicuous affluence and resources, thereby altering their shopping patterns and habits.

Though the pandemic has affected the sales of all luxury brands, certain categories of goods have not seen any decline but rather a spike in their sales. The classic and signature timepieces from luxury labels have been continuing to sell out. This can also be attested by the fact that GUCCI decided to dedicate an entire star-studded campaign to advertise its four all-time classic handbags, that have contributed massively to the label’s revenue. 

The increased sales in signature and classic goods can also be credited to the surge in digital shopping which has made these goods accessible to people globally without having to travel. Moreover, these goods are also perceived as great profitable economic investments, with specific products like Hermes Birkin Bags having a 34% Return on Investment as of 2020. Consumers of luxury products are now buying them more with the purpose of investment than mere consumption. 

To ensure rebound in sales, luxury brands like Dior, GUCCI, Chanel, YSL have also launched makeup and skincare lines, especially for Spring 2021. This is because makeup and skincare are the two categories of products that have a consistent demand all throughout the year and are more than often remain uninfluenced by seasons and/or holidays.

Looking at the volatile nature of the market given the pandemic, luxury brands will have to globally revamp and strategise the products they plan to release. The few trends that companies will have to look into are sustainable and vegan products, subtle and simple designer wear with less emphasis on gaudy embellishments and logos, inculcating more culturally inclusive and diverse designs and designers in their products as well as in the workforce respectively. 

The pandemic, in many ways, has shook luxury brands from their comfort zones, breaking their bubble of consistent revenue and loyal clientele. It has not only challenged them economically but also culturally and socially to produce and create goods by keeping up with the trends in time. Although the pandemic in 2020 might have impacted these luxury brands negatively – especially their revenue and financial stability, it has also pushed them to create more and more culturally inclusive products. 

Image Courtesy: GUCCI

Muskaan Kanodia is a junior at Ashoka University, double majoring in English and Sociology. When she is not drowning in books, you can find her drawing and smiling at strangers on the ghats of Benaras.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

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Issue 11

Exploring Crevices in Global Healthcare Systems: An Analysis of Health Beyond COVID-19

An article published in the New England Medicine Journal in April 2020 describes the plight of a nurse whose husband died of cardiac arrest when New York hospitals were met with one of the worst public health emergencies in recent times. While the nurse, a medical professional would have ideally rushed her husband to the hospital, she struggled to take a decision for fear of exposing her spouse to the Covid virus. This incident makes one consider the story of the ‘untold toll,’ which the pandemic is forcing on non-covid patients and medical resources across the world. 

When the pandemic hit, the first response of national governments was to impose lockdowns, fund research for the study of the virus and increase hospital intakes for rising coronavirus cases. But most institutions, both governmental and medical, within this rush to curb the coronavirus spread, overlooked other illnesses that had already been affecting people. As a result, all public health funds, research, hospitals and professionals only focused on the potentially deadly virus, while special hospital wards for other diseases were either completely shut down, converted to Covid-19 isolation centres or restricted patients from entering their premises. 

news report published by Al Jazeera in April 2020 covered the impact that Covid-19 had on non-covid cancer patients in the past year, describing how a breast cancer patient was unable to continue treatment and struggled to get her check-ups for fear of getting the virus. Another report from India highlights how cancer patients within the national capital struggled because of postponement of surgery dates owing to pandemic lockdowns. And as one tries to study the scope of this ‘untold toll’ in covid times, one is introduced to articles not just of cancer patients but patients wanting to get a dialysis treatment, women struggling to get abortions and a myriad other such cases.    

 In April 2020, a  report by the Wire analysed how Covid-19 had affected the already struggling public health system in India. As a projective report, the article analysed how patients suffering from cardiac issues, kidney diseases, mental health concerns and other non-covid medical health concerns would be affected by the lockdown. The article further explored how already existing high tuberculosis cases within the country were going to be left untreated in a pandemic world, owing to bad medical health infrastructures within the subcontinent. While there is not enough data available to prove the validity of these reports and the extent to which these predictions were proven correct last year, news reports quoted above give us a glimpse of the situation being close to what this report had predicted. With shutting down of  emergency wards, closure of special wards and the conversion of medical centres into quarantine facilities, it is no surprise that the overall health and well-being of non-covid patients underwent a significant blow. 

While it is no surprise that these ‘temporary pauses’ in healthcare impacted non-covid patients significantly and put the larger health of the public at risk, this situation also brought to the fore the crevices in public health systems the world over. It was not just Indian cancer patients who struggled to get treated, the situation in the UK and the US were similar. The question that this situation raises is that if the healthcare system could not absorb non-covid patients along with new covid patients in the past, will it be able to do it this time? A year after the previous covid scare, the cases have significantly spiked again, with a much stronger, mutated strain of the virus resurfacing in the world. 

The response to this second wave of the virus is yet again lockdown impositions, curfews, shutting down of hospitals, conversion of these spaces into temporary covid wards, thereby imposing a halt on other medical services. while the question remains – can we sustain our healthcare systems in periods of crisis? And can we afford to interrupt other ‘essential’ medical services in times of a pandemic like Coronavirus?

Places like Pune’s Yashwantrao Chavan Memorial Hospital has already become a dedicated covid hospital. The emergency wards in several Uttar Pradesh hospitals have already started shutting down, owing to a spike in Covid-19 cases. Similar reports are expected to be coming from different parts of the country. 

Given the data and policy analysis from last year, one is forced to ask whether the response to the current rise in covid-19 cases will result in the same medical conundrum the country and world witnessed in 2020? Or will our past experiences fill the fissures that were made visible by a global health emergency?

Saman Fatima is a third-year History Major at Ashoka University.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

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Issue 7

Pets of the Pandemic

Human beings, as one knows, are social beings; be it with a fellow human or an animal. This inherent quality along with the advancement of technology and media has facilitated the sociality of a person. In the era of the internet, we are up to date and in touch with more friends, family and acquaintances than ever before. However, the year 2020 took such a turn and brutally limited this inherent sociality to being social in a room and connected through a screen. One was not only isolated but in-person social interaction also meant putting oneself and the people around at risk.

With almost completing a year amidst the pandemic, conversations around mental health concerns have seen a significant rise that has a correlational if not causal relationship with the pandemic. It is not uncommon that the pandemic, quarantine and the lockdown harboured a lot of feelings of uncertainty, isolation and loneliness. While a person to person interaction might have been risky, a number of people turned to the companionship of a pet. 

Historically, humans have always been a part of a culture of integrating animals within their lifestyle as both parties have been present in close physical proximity. Traditionally, animals such as horses, cows, dogs, etc. were domesticated to acquire goods such as dairy, meat, security etc; thus, they had a use-value. While these animals were resourceful, over time, this culture of domestication branched out into what a layperson would see as keeping a ‘pet’ in present times. One could see the emergence of keeping pets for companionship, comfort and support. A variety of research sheds light on the human-animal interaction, and one such research explores this bond through the Pet Effect. This effect addresses the impact of the symbiotic relationship of love, affection that the pet and owner share, that significantly contributes to each parties’ physical, emotional and mental well-being. A survey was conducted in 2016, which reported that 74% of the 2000 pet owners, felt that there was a significant improvement in their mental and social well-being once they acquired a pet.

Hence, to seek comfort in these unprecedented times, various individuals who could afford to, adopted a pet. If one would’ve stepped into a park in May, one would have noticed a good deal of what are called the ‘Pets of the Pandemic’. With the lockdown pushing work culture from in-office to a work from home format, not only did a pet provide companionship but also a positive and meaningful presence within the home environment. Owners could now fully distract themselves from the uncertainty and invest in attending to their pet and also indulging in physical exercise by taking them out for walks.

While pets may have been the solution to our loneliness, many have chosen to ignore the  impact of the pandemic on our four-legged companions? Research suggests that for newly born and adopted pets, socialisation is crucial within their first three months. The environment that a pet spends time in plays an essential role in their development. However, due to the pandemic, various pets like dogs and cats have spent a large portion of their initial months indoors. This leads to exposing pets to two pertinent issues: difficulty in adjusting to new environments and socialising and developing separation anxiety. 

Gradual exposure to society and socialization is an important part of taking care of and training pets, especially for a puppy. This training ensures that the puppy grows to be a dog that is comfortable with other people, animals and new environments and does not develop unnecessary fears and phobias. 

Furthermore, stemming from the same environment is the issue of separation anxiety. Separation anxiety is often noticed in dogs and is described as the dog displaying distressed behaviour when its’ guardian is about to leave the house. Distressed behaviour could look different for each dog, however, some common indicators are agitation, being upset, uneasy or restless and seeming depressed. Dogs suffering from separation anxiety bark and howl when they are left alone or cause destruction in the house, often causing self-injury and in some cases, make an attempt to escape. 

When we are experiencing distressed, often restoring to a pet for comfort is extremely normal. With owners spending 24×7 time with their pets, the latter have become a coping mechanism for many. The line between this mutually beneficial relationship and co-dependency has blurred during the pandemic. So the most important question to raise is what happens once the guardians move back to their 9-5 in-office lifestyle? How does the pet respond to getting all the constant attention for almost 11 months to transitioning back to the time when they were not? How does the owner resort to separating themselves from their pet, and find other mechanisms to cope with stress?

These are questions that one is yet to answer. 

Vanishree is currently pursuing Psychology and Sociology at Ashoka University. Vani enjoys cooking in her free time. 

Picture Credits: Sunehra Bhatura

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

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Issue 6

Back to the Future: “Seamlessly” transitioning to a ‘Post-Covid World’

“It’s just a small gathering.”

News outlets globally reported a significant spike in Covid-19 cases in November 2020, owing to a festive season coinciding with lower temperatures and greater pollution levels. Following Diwali celebrations, daily Covid cases rose by nearly 50% in India, while the United States witnessed higher daily mortality post Thanksgiving, than in the beginning of the pandemic. Even as people rush to justify those one-two-three outings with a single sentence, we all wonder how long we will be forced to live like this. After months of speculation and great uncertainty, the concluding weeks of November brought good tidings, with two major pharma companies announcing the success of their vaccine trials. At once, the thick fog hanging over the “future” seemed to lift a little. With the UK being the first nation to approve imminent mass vaccination, a “post-Covid world” may soon become a reality.

So what is this ‘post-Covid world?’ 

In thinking about a ‘post-Covid world,’ we are participating in an act of imagination. That many of us have already begun actualising these imaginations, despite the very real threat of infection, leaves us with a crucial question: is a ‘post-covid world’ one where we live alongside the disease, or one where it is eradicated? Many reports suggest that the coronavirus is here to stay. If indeed, this turns out to be true, what might a transition – a seamless transition – into such a world look like?

Here, the word “seamless” is of consequence. What exactly is “seamless?” And for whom is such a transition “seamless?” One of the newest buzzwords, buzzphrases this year was “Work from Home.” White-collar employees readily embraced working from the comfort of their living rooms and balconies while wearing formal shirts with shorts underneath. Sometimes, a mischievous child or a rowdy pet made an appearance to break the monotony of Zoom meetings. Most encouragingly, persons with disabilities, who had previously been excluded from employment, were now assimilated into the workforce, owing to the many accommodations and adjustments companies introduced in order to ease working from home. 

But working from home was also not a universal reality. If the lockdown was an extended vacation for those sitting comfortably at the upper crust of society, it was also a period of extreme struggle – confronting the virus on a daily basis was a matter of putting food on the table for thousands. Delivery persons continued to visit houses, probably even more than usual. Doctors, nurses, and healthcare systems faced unimaginable amounts of pressure. Government support for these services in several countries was negligible, if any existed at all. 

Globally, the long months of the pandemic have also been accented by some of the largest protests tackling racism, abortion rights, and agricultural inequalities, all while unemployment and sickness rates were skyrocketing. The pandemic also brought to light numerous social fractures that were previously invisible, or cleverly concealed. Namely, identity-based discrimination was accentuated by the biased identification of specific social vectors of transmission; Muslims and the poor in India, immigrants in the USA, and East Asians globally all became ‘Covid bodies’. As an “ideology of transmission,” this is deeply controversial. Alongside this, increased domestic violence, stark social disparities in the access to education and technology, and the inherent violence of working in a system that is obsessed with productivity under any condition became immediately apparent.

‘Liminality,’ in anthropology, is defined as a transition between two relatively stable conditions, and is characterized by ambiguity and disorientation. One is tempted to think of these lockdowns as liminal, then, for with the vaccine on the horizon, surely we’re at the end of this period of uncertainty. It provides a convenient vacuum within which to locate the many social fractures that came to light, and allows us to think – rather naively, perhaps – that along with the disease, these undesirable “social symptoms” of increased classism and racism, too, will be eradicated. While jobs for healthcare professionals and delivery persons became even riskier during the pandemic, one is also compelled to think about whether accommodations in other forms of employment will be retained in a “post-covid” situation.

In fact, this ‘post-covid world’ that we are now venturing into bears eerie resemblance to the world before the coronavirus made an appearance. In other words, could we possibly be returning to an “old” normal, rather than a new one? It is clear that a transition into a “post-covid” world has already begun. However, it is also irrefutable that it is not “seamless,” and can never be. Even as we have these realisations about the eroded state of our social fabric, we are left with few answers on the nature and possibility of change. Where does this knowledge leave us? In the face of economic recession, messy politics, heightened surveillance, and deteriorating ecologies, a return to an innocent-sounding “normalcy” is probably the most harmful way forward. Perhaps now is the time to return to the drawing board instead, to investigate the live wires, loose screws, and rusted cogs in our systems that reduce us to categories and the statistics that mete out and endure violence. 
Looking back at the past, different pandemics have been remembered differently. While the black death was forever etched into the world’s collective memory, the Spanish Flu of 1918 is termed the ‘forgotten pandemic’. It was eclipsed by a backdrop of massive global political shifts, despite it infecting a third of the world’s population. Who is allowed to forget a pandemic, really? More importantly, when are we allowed to do so? In the same way that nations’ adaptation to a world with the coronavirus was deeply varied, and the transition to a “post-Covid world” appears far from seamless, the ending of the pandemic too, will certainly be staggered. Many feverishly hope that the end of 2020 brings with it the final days of the pandemic. Given the speed at which we are ploughing ahead, foregrounded by the socio-political unrest, ecological damage, and economic crises, will Covid-19 too, become a “forgotten pandemic?”

Picture Credit: Shutterstock

The writers, Reeva Dani, Tanvi Gupta, Teesta Rawal, Trisha Nagpal, and Vinay Chandnani, are students of the sociology course ‘The Plague Town: Politics of Pandemic’ at Ashoka University.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

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Issue 5

A Stymied Transition: How the Class of 2023 is adapting to ‘college life’ online

2020 has been rough for students everywhere. With the disruption of regular classes, being stuck either away from home or at home for months, and with some being directly affected by the coronavirus infection, the year has been challenging. College students had it harder than others because they also lost jobs and higher studies opportunities in addition to difficulties with assessment. While there has been some acknowledgement of the hardships faced by the class of 2020, very little has been said about the students who passed out from school this year and were college-bound right in the middle of the pandemic. They are now nearing the end of the first semester, but the journey till here has been full of stress.

The roller coaster of uncertainty started off when a nation-wide lockdown was imposed in the month of March–when high school students were taking their final Board examinations. The remaining exams were postponed. Board results got delayed until finally average scores were awarded to those who couldn’t take the exams. But this initial postponement led to further delays in admission processes that rely on the Board examination marks. For instance, many students aspiring to get into prestigious colleges like those under the Delhi University had to either gamble losing a semester and wait till November for admission lists, or let go of their plan and settle for a different college.

Most country-wide entrance examinations are conducted physically in person. Therefore, students who had to take tests like the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test and Joint Entrance Examination (NEET-JEE), or the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT), etc., were left hanging as the entrances were delayed for several months. It was not clear how, or whether at all, they would be conducted, given the pandemic rampaging across the country. Such circumstances affected students’ performance too.

Many students’ college plans that they had worked on for years were upturned and students were forced to settle for choices they had never even considered. Students had to consider completely new rubrics like the possibility of travel and online learning when choosing their college. And most unfortunately, several young people were not able to enrol in colleges at all. A major reason was because COVID-19 tanked an already plummeting economy, another was the economic loss due to floods in different parts of the country, thus increasing the financial burden on many sections of the population in India.

Since all learning was to be online for a while, parents might fail to see the merit in such an education. This has also been the reason for many students to not go to their college of choice, but just attend a less expensive program at a college that is in the city where they already live. Parents were afraid of the risk involved in travelling and living in a different city as the pandemic continues. Many students plan to get a transfer to a college with better opportunities in their second year, when the pandemic hopefully would have mitigated too.

After going through a rough time getting into college, perhaps the major part of uncertainty is over for the students. Most of the big decisions have been made and now they are focussed on their studies and other college activities. In fact, having gone through such a gruelling experience together, they already share something as a batch. College is a completely new chapter in one’s life, one that comes with the promise of freedom and excitement. For the class of 2023, all of ‘college-life’ has only been available online. They got Zoom instead of lecture halls full of chatter and group chats instead of college canteens bustling with groups of friends.

And yet, while the rest of us have been figuring out how to maintain relationships in a physically distant world, these students have been building new relationships from scratch, online.

Kavya, studying at a private college in Jabalpur, says that online classes are a bit dull, and she isn’t surprised that she often sleeps off during lectures and misses assignment deadlines. What she is finding unexpected, though, is how fun her online college life has turned out to be. Social media is the only space where they can hangout, and yet, it is not exactly a bad compromise. She and her friends sometimes skip classes together, have lengthy conversations on group chats and celebrate birthdays on video calls.

Being stuck at home may be an impediment to making new friends, but it might also be an important driver for the same. Young people who have probably not seen anyone other than their family members for months must feel a stronger urge to connect with others their own age.

Amaysi, a student at Sophia College, says that she has always been a people person and loves meeting new people. She was not expecting to have to make good connections this way. “I now know way more people than I might have been able to interact with physically.” says Amaysi. She has been busy helping organise her college’s annual intercollege fest, which is online this year. 

Online interactions are certainly very different from ones in real life. While that may be an annoying reality for most of us now, it is perhaps a better one for some. Individuals with social anxiety, who might experience stress being amongst people and hence behave unlike their usual selves, can find online interactions more easier. For such people, online college might actually be a space where they get to be themselves without much difficulty.

These students have not seen the actual buildings and cities that make their colleges come alive. For them college is just virtual interaction so far. The people behind the screen – their friends and professors – are the only familiar aspects of their college lives. And thus, finding these people behind the screen everyday is a blessing rather than an impediment, in a way. Of course, they hope to physically be together, and look forward to how much more real things will be for them. But for now, they are doing everything to make the best out of current circumstances. Online interactions with our loved ones, friends, family, colleagues, may not seem to be enough, but for the class of 2023, that is all they have to make do with, at least for now.

Mansi is a student of philosophy and environmental studies at Ashoka University. Her other interests include performing arts, politics and octopuses.

Picture Credit: “Gmail on Laptop in Dark” by Image Catalog is marked with CC0 1.0

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organization, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

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Issue 4

The COVID-19 Vaccine: Will It Flatter To Deceive?

Since the ending of 2019, the shroud of ‘SARS CoV-2’ virus has engulfed the world. The pandemic has taken a toll of more than 1.2 million lives worldwide and a renewed tsunami of a second wave of infection looms large in the horizon. Such catastrophic infection rates along with loss of human lives has also seen massive economic downturns and widespread unemployment. The Center for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), has reported a 27% rise in unemployment rate and a 38% loss in market capital by the end of May and August 2020 respectively. 

Under these challenging circumstances, scientists across the globe are racing against time to design an effective anti-SARS CoV-2 silver bullet in the form of vaccines or drugs. An efficacious protective vaccine appears to be the most promising means to contain the spread of SARS CoV-2 since the virus has shown few signs of mutating from the highly contagious to a weaker avirulent form. This is in sharp contrast to what was witnessed in case of the influenza pandemic of 1917-19. It has been estimated that the availability of a vaccine will prevent the loss of nearly 375 billion US dollars per month from the global economy and also prevent the loss of millions of lives.

Scientists and biotechnologists are burning the midnight oil to put together an ideal vaccine against SARS CoV-2. But what is this ideal vaccine? It is one that is safe, devoid of side effects and at the same time induces a robust and protective immunity in the body to counter future attacks from the virus. In field trials, the average protection rate should be greater than 80%. Furthermore, the protection should be long term. It should be cheap and preferably a single-dose vaccine. Transportation of the vaccine should be easy and companies should be able to mass-produce it in a short time. Unfortunately, not all existing vaccines fulfil all of the abovementioned criteria. 

Since the first vaccine was invented by Dr Edward Jenner in 1796, the field has progressed exponentially through the incorporation of an array of methods, namely- attenuated live agent, killed virulent agent, DNA vaccines and  mRNA vaccines to name a few. In the elusive search for the SARS CoV-2 vaccine, all possible avenues are being explored. About 300 such attempts are being witnessed in different laboratories.

While there are multiple avenues being explored to combat the CoVID19 pandemic, the question looming large in all of our minds is when will the vaccine be available in the market? Obviously, the candidate vaccines undergoing phase-III trial with most promising and favorable responses, will be marketed first. Phase-III trial is a multicentric one involving a large cohort, who are to be followed for a reasonably long time to assess the protection rate and duration of protection. It needs 3-6 months for the trial in cases of coronavirus infections. Until then our wait continues. Moreover, even if a protective vaccine is available, it may take- years to produce large quantities of doses for the world population. Therefore, it will require a well-planned immunization program.

               One might ask, what will be the protection rate, how long will the protection persist and does the vaccinated population need to wear masks, maintain social distancing or carry out the required sanitation measures.

 Regarding protection, none of the existing vaccines (for CoVID or any other diseases) imparts 100% protection. If a vaccine shows effective protection in 80% of the vaccinated population, it is considered acceptable. In case of the SARS-CoV2 pandemic situation, even 30-70% (an average of 50%) protection rate by multicentric trial on cohorts, would be acceptable. This is because if 50% population is protected through vaccination and another 20-30% have already developed herd immunity, the magnitude of active cases and active spreaders will come down to controllable limits. However, one apprehension still persists, that critical changes in viral antigen due to mutation might outsmart the immunity which has already developed. This phenomenon is observed in case of Influenza virus time and again. The issue can be tackled by careful surveillance of the viral genome and constantly incorporating new vaccine candidates as and when required.   

As far as duration of protection is concerned, the time is not right for any comments. Even if a candidate vaccine produces short term immunity of 3-6 months, it is acceptable under the current scenario considering the ever-burgeoning infection rates. Even short term immunity will significantly reduce the impact of the ongoing pandemic.

Finally, we will conclude by discussing the post vaccination situation.  A variable period in the aftermath of vaccination is expected to be no better than the present situation. Partial lockdown, wearing of masks, adherence to sanitation and social distancing will be continued. This is because of the fact that the vaccine might not give 100% protection. Production of adequate doses of vaccine to cover all the population will take a long time, possibly extending into months or years. To make matters worse the virus might mutate, thwarting the mass vaccination effort.

Thus, there are many variables to conquer the raging SARS-CoV2 pandemic. Our last hope might be the mutation of the virus in such a way, that it loses its infectivity and virulence, similar to what happened in the Influenza (spanish flu) pandemic of 1917-19. Until then, let us make masks a fashion statement, observe hand sanitation and maintain social distancing.

Dr. Kasturi Pal is an Assistant Professor and DBT-Ramalingaswamy fellow in the Department of Biology at Ashoka University, where she teaches courses in Physiology, Advanced Biochemistry, Developmental Biology and Advanced Cell Biology

Some candidate vaccines appear to be promising. Following is a short list of the potential candidate vaccines:

  • Category A :
PlatformDeveloperCurrent status
1.Non-Replicating Adenovirus Expressing Truncated ‘S’protein(rADV-S)International Vaccine InstitutePre-clinical
2.Replicating recombinant measles virus spike proteinUniv’ Health Network, Canada;Center for Disease Control and PreventionPre-clinical
3.Replicating MV-SARS recombinant vaccine expressing ‘SARS-CoV’ AgInstitute Pasteur Phase-III trial
4.Subunit vaccine- using receptor binding domain (RBD) of SARS-CoV spike ‘S’ proteinBaylor College Medicine(Sabin)NY blood center(NYBC)Pre-clinical
5.Subunit Vaccine using SARS recombinant spike protein plus delta-inulin.V19Vaccine Pty Ltd, AustraliaPhase-I
6.Virus like particle expressing ‘S’ protein of SARS and influenza M1 proteinNovavaxPhase-III
7.Inactivated rSARS CoV-E virus.CNB CSIC, Univ of IowaPre-clinical
8.Covishield-Oxford (Replication deficient simian virus- S11-Ch AdOx1 nCoV 19)SanofiA Licensed Product
9.Whole Virus containing surface structural glycoprotein Ag of SARS CoV2.Oxford University/Astra ZenecaPhase-II
  • Category- B  (DNA Vaccines)
PlatformDeveloperCurrent status
1.DNA prime protein S437-459 and M1-20Institute of Immunology, Sanghai Medical College of Fudan, ChinaNo Information
2.SARS ‘s’ DNA primed and HLA-A restricted peptidesSan Yat Sen Univ’, China        -Do-
3.3a DNA Vaccine State key Laboratory of Virology, China        -Do-
4.VRC- SRS DNA 015-00VPNIAID, USAPhase-I
5.DNA ‘s’Protein + IL-2State Key Laboratory, ChinaNo Information
6.p-IRES-ISS-S1Jilin Univ’, Academy of Military Medicine          -Do-
7.M and N DNA vaccineInstitute in Japan, Taiwan and Hong KongPre-clinical
  • Category-C (mRNA based vaccine)
PlatformDeveloperCurrent status
1.Antigen protein specific mRNA encapsulated in lipid Nanoparticle(LNP) inserted into a cell, which acts as a factoryfor translation into exact 3D specific Ags of the virus, here SARS-CoV 2.Moderna TX IncPhase III

Indian Vaccines:   

PlatformDeveloperCurrent Status
1.CoVaxin (Inactivated virus)Bharat Biotech (Hyderabad)and ICMRPhase II trial
2.ZyCov-D (plasmid DNA vaccine)Zydus Cadila LtdPhase II trial
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The Most Powerful Response to Any Situation: Love

By Raja Rosenhagen

The topic of love seemed like an obvious choice. I just taught two classes on it over the summer—one for graduate level students,one as part of the summer semester offerings for our undergraduates. It was deeply rewarding to be with these students, to reflect with them on what love and friendship are (or should be), on how various kinds of love relate to our reasons, and on how the quality of our attention profoundly shapes our everyday ways of interacting with others. Many students took these reflections as invitations to self-examine, to apply the conceptual tools they had acquired throughout the course to their lives and ask: How doI relate to others? Can I live up to the various ideals we had tried to articulate? In what ways am I falling short, and why? Some students wrote to me afterwards and said that for them, the class had served as a safe space in which to reflect upon things that matter, on issues, moreover, that do come to the fore even more forcefully than otherwise now, i.e. in a time in which humans across the globe are going through a pandemic and are thus either confined to being with their loved ones a lot more than usual or are separated from or even at the risk of losing them. 

Not every philosophy class is or must be an exercise of earnest self-examination. However, a class that stimulates one to reflect upon how to live well can be a source of personal growth, and serve to sow, one hopes, the seeds for a better society. That we need one is obvious to everyone who looks—and opportunities abound—at the suffering of the diseased, the poor, the marginalized, and all those who have nobody to lobby for them. Many of us prefer to look away or focus on issues we can manage, things we feel we can cope with. This can be healthy. After all, our capacity to look at the various kinds of suffering that our ways of life create or help sustain is limited. There may only be so much we can take, of the sadness, the anger, and the despair that looking outward empathetically must reveal, and of the emotional exhaustion that ensues. 

But we must look somewhere. And even if we can’t, given the pandemic, go out, travel, and explore it, the world doesn’t halt at our doorstep. Numerous media outlets and social media platforms provide a permanent influx of news and entertainment that vie for our attention, approval, or emotional responses. Of course, the virtual world allows us to be selective. We can choose where we look and can easily look away if things get under our skins. But the satisfaction virtual escapism provides is short-lived. After hours of watching Netflix or chasing down various debates on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, most of us are left exhausted, left with a stale aftertaste, the feeling that real life is shallow, too complicated or burdensome, or with the nagging thought that a lot of precious time was just wasted. Even if after spending time on consuming various news items, one may well be in a better position to understand certain issues, through such consumption, nothing of substance changes. More distracted, more polarized, or overwhelmed, we find ourselves where we left as we begin to direct our selective gaze into the virtual outward. We remain saddled with the real pain around us, confronted with those who have legitimate demands on us, with urgent emails to respond to and many other tasks to complete. It is a change for the better that we vaguely imagine and strongly desire. But as we resurface from the virtual, we must concede that nothing has changed, nothing has been achieved.

Ultimately, trying to mask out the real world is futile. For the pain and suffering we try to escape, are anyway, not just out there. They live in our own homes and families (think of the uncle, cousin, or unresolved conflict that everyone knows but nobody talks about), in our relationships, in how we handle ourselves in them. So we cannot escape, or not for long. So where should we look? How can we deal? What must happen for things to become better?

Once we raise these questions and make time to be with them, we realize that the most powerful responses turn on love. Giving time and attention to others, Simone Weil thinks, is not just a way of showing empathy, it is a way to love. Iris Murdoch concurs, adding that love is a quality of attachment, that directing our attention at what is good and valuable in the world and in others is a source of tremendous energy, and that love, construed as just attention, enables us to act well. 

So we can ask: whom or what do I love? Do I pay attention to it? Do I love what I pay attention to? How do I nourish my love, how can I refine it? What have I done today to expand it? Is there someone who needs my compassionate kindness? How is my neighbour, my grandmother, a friend that I haven’t heard from in a long time, how are things for the istrivala, the kachravala, or the shopkeeper of the corner store? What would happen if I asked them?

It is an old mistake to think that we cannot solve large or systemic societal problems by making small steps. Everyone can make small steps and many such steps jointly give rise to powerful movements. We must not think that believing this, and acting on it, is naïve, or that it can’t be that simple. Such a response-apart from being one of the biggest obstacles to change—is itself naïve. For how can it be reasonable to hope that things will change for the better while we do not? Surely, changing our ways by seeking to expand our ability to love nudges us out of our comfort zone. We may be afraid as such expansion it may seem to make us vulnerable. But it makes us stronger. It helps us turn into the best version of who we are. It serves to build community, to create structures of responsibility, compassion, and human connection, it implements life-affirming values and thus strengthens the various connections we form with those around us. This, I believe, is by far the best response to the pain we face. And it is available to us always. We need not wait. We can start today, and it barely costs anything. Love NOW!

Rosenhagen is the Associate Professor Philosophy and Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at Ashoka University. He specializes in Philosophy of Perception, Science, Mind, & Epistemology.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis). 

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COVID or Not, The Campaign Must Go On

By Neelanjan Sircar

The upcoming polls, in Assam, Bihar, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, pose unprecedented challenges in election management. Even in the best of times, regulating the behaviour of political actors during elections is nearly impossible. Anecdotally, candidates regularly spend over the farcically low spending limits for candidates (although the official data show otherwise) and all manner of distribution of alcohol and cash occur in the days leading up to the polls. But this year has brought forth even more challenges. In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, parties will be heavily restricted in hosting rallies or other large public events that are so crucial to a standard political campaign.

But the campaign must go on. I imagine that two campaign activities will be used as substitutes for the traditional campaign. First, in the absence of large public gatherings convened by high profile politicians, parties will have to rely much more on “within village” activities like door-to-door canvassing. Second, outreach to voters — especially from the party elite — will be far more dependent upon social media and other digital media. 

This will likely generate advantages for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), by far the most well-funded party that has invested the most in its social media campaign strategies. For instance, data from the fiscal year 2017-2018 provided from Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) shows that the BJP received 210 crores out of the total of 222 crores from the controversial “electoral bond scheme” ushered in by the BJP, a staggering 95% of all electoral financing through the electoral bond method. This infusion of money has been crucial to maintaining electoral machinery that swells to impressive proportions during election time. For instance, in the 2019 national election, the BJP fielded an army of panna pramukhs (literally page chiefs), who were assigned to keep track of 30-60 voters each. While panna pramukhs were not fielded everywhere, the very fact that they can be fielded over a large swathe of the country indicates both the scale of funding available to the BJP and its commitment to building dense ground-level machinery during election time.

The existing investment in ground-level campaigning will be a huge asset for the BJP. In a time when movement is restricted due to the COVID pandemic, the ability of ground-level workers to mobilize and bring people to the polls is likely to have a greater impact. Furthermore, these same restrictions will make bureaucratic monitoring of elections and campaign behaviour more difficult, perhaps emboldening ground-level actors to use quasi-legal means to mobilize voters.

The BJP also has consistently demonstrated its proficiency in reaching voters through social media. The BJP of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah may not have been unique in their political appeals with respect to religion and caste, but it has been an innovator in campaign methods. Outside of the Congress, the (regional) parties that grew out of the 1990s built their campaigns in a particular manner that was labour-intensive and dependent upon the control of ground-level leaders that often had caste credentials. The BJP realized that if it had to spread beyond its traditional bases of support, it would have to develop a method of directly reaching the voter in places where it did not carry favours with local elites. The development of a strong social media campaign has created a direct channel between the central leadership, and Prime Minister Modi in particular, with the voter. This was a strategy that was effective, for instance, in the 2019 national elections in West Bengal.

Google search data provides a suggestive data point for BJP’s dominance in social media campaigning. While it is true that users of Google are likely to be younger, wealthier, and more educated than the general population, the recent spread of cheap smartphones in the countryside has significantly broadened access to the platform across India. In Google searches about politicians over the 2019 election period, an extraordinary 75% of searches were about Narendra Modi, compared to just 12% about Rahul Gandhi. Of course, this is only the tip of the iceberg. The BJP purportedly has extraordinary advantages in most social media and peer-to-peer campaigning through platforms like Whatsapp. 

Here too, the challenges of monitoring and auditing party behaviour are likely to be significant. During the elections, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has significant policing powers, regulating the content of campaigns and policy promises. As communication with the voter decidedly shifts towards social and digital media, where the content is less visible to third parties, the ECI is compromised in being able to regulate campaigns.

The 2019 national election exposed concerns about the impartiality of the ECI. A number of observers felt that, in the process of regulating content, the ECI showed biases towards the ruling BJP. This was in stark contrast to the narrative of the ECI that had started in the 1990s under TN Seshan and continued by subsequent heads of the ECI — which was seen as aggressively maintaining a level playing field for candidates and parties. The consequence of a level playing field was the democratization of the electoral space with new parties and new kinds of electoral appeals entering the system. 

The real threat to democratic norms today is not a momentary shift in campaign tactics due to the COVID pandemic. Rather, it is the fear that new forms of campaigning that are effective in skirting regulatory norms will get locked in, particularly when the ECI has shown little interest in innovating to meet these challenges. For all of its pathologies, the Indian electoral system showed that simply allowing parties to compete on equal footing generating high turnover in ruling parties at both the state and national levels.

Today, as the very basis of equal political competition is being challenged, we must wonder if brute force and money are all that is required to win elections.

Neelanjan Sircar is a Senior Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research and Assistant Professor at Ashoka University. His research interests include Indian political economy and comparative political behavior .

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).