Choose bipartisan approach


India is at war with a virus, an invisible enemy. In this national emergency, a collective response, guided entirely by experts, is needed to mitigate the situation. With the pandemic wreaking havoc across the country and the daily cases touching 2.70 lakh, the highest since the crisis erupted last year, it is time the Centre considered putting in place a bipartisan, national Covid-19 task force by roping in the best and bright minds, experts from public and private professional bodies and chief ministers of all States to formulate an appropriate response. This is not the time for political blame-game or finger-pointing. Every single day lost in the bureaucratic indecisiveness, lethargy and politicking only adds to the misery of millions of people reeling under the impact of a more virulent and infectious second wave. The government must consider the set of timely suggestions made by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on tiding over the crisis. As he rightly put it, the States must be allowed to define categories of frontline workers that need to be vaccinated on a priority basis even if they are below 45 years of age. The distribution of jabs among the States should be based on a transparent formula. The vaccine shortage, largely due to the Central government’s haphazard planning, has put the States in a difficult situation in the face of a massive surge in the infections. The States must be given a clear timeline of supplies so that they can plan their roll out.

Accelerating the vaccination drive alone can help flatten the curve and save lives. Since domestic supplies are limited, any foreign vaccine, cleared for use by credible authorities, should be allowed to be imported without insisting on domestic bridging trials. Already, India has lost precious time on this count. The bureaucratic red tape red tape should not be allowed to further delay the process. Simultaneously, the Centre must proactively support domestic vaccine producers in expanding their manufacturing facilities by providing funds and other concessions. In other countries, the governments did provide financial assistance to the vaccine makers to ramp up production. The price control on vaccines too needs to be lifted or prices be renegotiated. Non-remunerative prices will prove counter-productive. Simultaneously, healthcare infrastructure and capacities must be expanded rapidly. As suggested by Singh, this is the time to invoke the compulsory licensing provisions in the law so that a number of companies are able to produce the vaccines under a licence. So far, the NDA government’s vaccination strategy has been marked by a tight control over vaccine supplies and resistance to the full-scale involvement of the private sector. The government must focus on real solutions instead of relying on token events like “vaccine festival”.

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