With an alarming spike in the number of fresh coronavirus infections, shortage of vaccines, hospital beds and emergency medicines in several States, India is staring at a far more serious crisis than the Centre cares to acknowledge. The situation could not have come to such a pass if there was proper planning and coordination over the production and distribution of vaccines, stricter enforcement of Covid-appropriate public behaviour and a ban on mass gatherings and congregations of both religious and political kind. It is a grim paradox that India, a global vaccine manufacturing hub, should be facing a shortage of doses, forcing several vaccination centres to shut down. The Union government’s vaccination strategy, marked by tight control over the supply and resistance to the full-scale involvement of the private sector, was a throwback to the licence-permit raj of the past. It clearly failed to recognise the gravity of the problem, and the need to accelerate the inoculation drive. Though it is well established that large social gatherings could be potential super-spreaders, one wonders why ‘Kumbh Mela’, billed as the world’s largest religious congregation, is allowed by the authorities. Covid-19 norms like face masks, social distancing and hygiene went for a toss as massive crowds gathered at the banks of Ganges and it would be naïve to expect the police to ensure compliance with the Covid guidelines at such events. There is an urgent need to review the current strategy and address the new challenges in coordination with the States and the private healthcare providers.
A complex interplay of mutant strains, lowering of guard by the people since the launch of the vaccination drive and resumption of the full-fledged economic activity could have led to the current surge. But, the government’s failure to learn lessons from last year is more glaring. The first wave had hit the country during a period of complete uncertainty about the behaviour of the virus. Though health is a State subject, the Centre took total control and decisions were often announced without adequate consultation with the States, including the one to impose a nationwide lockdown. The second wave is much more virulent and rapidly spreading. The number of new daily cases has increased more than ten-fold from below 9,000 on February 1, 2021, to nearly 1.70 lakh in the second week of April. During the first wave, the peak was in mid-September when India crossed 97,000. This time, despite far more extensive diagnostic and monitoring capabilities, the rate of increase has been much faster. The situation appears to be back to square one: the ICUs at hospitals in the worst-affected States are fast filling up, test positivity is steadily climbing and desperate migrant workers are returning home.
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