In the sixth episode G. Gurucharan Director, Public Affairs Centre (PAC) was interviewed. In this interview on RadioActive he shared PACs experience in tackling COVID-19 and how the centre is working in tandem with the Government of Karnataka to address the issues related to the pandemic.
He began by introducing PAC and stated that it is a not for profit think tank, we work in diverse areas of governance primarily focusing on use of data science data analytics and artificial intelligence to try and drive evidence-based policies and programs. He added that recently concluded a Knowledge Partnership with the Government of Karnataka to try and develop artificial intelligence-based use cases to improve the quality of governance and to improve development outcomes.
Highlighting the key aspects of the reports on COVID-19 developed and submitted to the Government of Karnataka he began by emphasising a few facts as a backdrop to explain the work that PAC does to try and help the Government of Karnataka. He added that the world has been taken over by COVID-19 and that everybody recognises it as probably the worst pandemic seen since the Spanish Flu in 1918 -1919 which is close to a hundred years. It killed 675,000 people in the United States alone and globally 40 million people died, relative to this so far at least the impact of COVID-19 in terms of mortality has not been as severe. It has been seen that about 4 million people are affected by COVID-19 globally and 3000 deaths within this context. He added that however, the economic effects of the Spanish Flu were short term primarily because the world economy was not at that time as micro integrating or as micro specialised.
He connected this to the challenges the Government of India and Government of Karnataka and said that they are not only combatting the containment of the virus but the battle on the health front is a greater battle. The economic shocks will be far more severe than that of the Spanish Flu.
In response to the question on the usefulness of data analytics and the benefits during such pandemics, Gurucharan highlighted that in India the 1st case broke out in January 2020 in India and in Karnataka it was March 4, 2020. The Government of Karnataka must be commended to act with urgency on this issue with an act of urgency. Even before the Government of India announced lock down the state government had taken steps to announce the lockdown, on March 18, 2020. One should not forget the fact that State government’s response is very coherent and well-coordinated not just between the political leadership and civil services but also across all departments. The Government of Karnataka demonstrated that it is capable of handling crises like this and introduce very strong Praxis policies and programmes.
PAC’s role in this was really to try and use data analytics using data generated by the state government and available on public domain. PAC attempted to use data to provide evidence-based advice to the state government. After identifying the probable reasons for the rapid spread of COVID-19 The first thing we did was we said Based on data both spread of the virus, no of cases braking out temporally and spatially that we must come out with a strong communication strategy.
The idea of the communication strategy was to reach out to not so much to the city dwellers who have access to newspapers and the television but really to reach out to the rural people. In this in partnership with Public Affairs Foundation (PAF) a short video as a communication strategy was developed in Kannada. This was disseminated through our District Level Partner Organisations (DLPOs) to try and reach out to the more disadvantaged and vulnerable populations. The video titles Corona Virus Do Not Panic Be Aware was very simple and precise. It tried to convey to the people that there was nothing to fear about COVID-19 provided, people took the required precautions. The video also explained the possible symptoms and if recognised they should report to the nearest health centres. Emphasis was laid on the importance of social distancing, importance of staying home, wearing masks when they stepped out.
He then added that they identified what might be of use to the Government and hence identified ideas for an Exit Strategy using data analysis to predict a trajectory. For example, using vector analysis they could indicate the magnitude and the direction of coronavirus might be like in Karnataka. PAC was probably one of the early organisation to provide a framework to identify the red and green zone areas. Based on a risk analysis matrix a lockdown exit strategy was suggested and also included on how progressively the government of Karnataka might open up the economic activities in the state.
The 2nd report gave a day-by-day prediction on what the rate of growth of the number of positive cases is going to be. It was also recommended that a “one-size-fits-all” approach of lockdown may not work. Focus on complete lockdown was suggested. Based on this, the state government did take cognisance on some of the recommendations and found it useful and it helped them formulate a strategy.
He added that PAC will also attempt to use econometrics model to simulate what the impact of COVID-19 might be on the state economy. To address this a macro management report was drafted. It included specific findings on what the decline in revenues might be what the growth in expenditure patterns might be and how the state government could adopt a comprehensive economic plan. He concluded by stating that a management plan will focus on reprioritising expenditure.
Working with Governments is important to transform research ideas into action-hence adapting action research is useful
Using data effectively helps in identifying problems which in turn helps in focusing on viable solutions.
Dr. Annapoorna Ravichander
Public Affairs Foundation