India is caught in a paroxysm: A lethal mix of electoral frenzy and devastating and deadlier second wave of Covid 19. As our netas continue to stomp in five-poll bound States, the insidious enemy rampages races through the country’s urban and rural landscape. Yesterday, active cases had crossed 1,35,27,717, death toll increased to 1,70,179 with 904 new fatalities, the highest since 18 October last and the national recovery rate fell below 90%. Yet it does not stop many from trampling on all pandemic norms and regulations, despite an ongoing tika utsav.
Besides, surge States Maharashtra, Punjab and Chhattisgarh, eight others: UP, Delhi, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan have shown a steep rise in the daily cases adding to Government woes now a “cause of worry” as they account for 83.02% of new infections.
Abominable is the state of affairs in three surge States with the highest numbers of new Covid-19 deaths in the country. In Maharashtra there is very high hospital occupancy in three districts, three other districts are facing problems with oxygen supply, there are malfunctioning ventilators in two districts, some districts are dependent on neighbouring ones to manage critical patients, in not a few places two patients are sharing a bed and there is acute shortage of healthcare workforce in 7 districts.
In Punjab two districts have no dedicated Covid hospitals, there is shortage of healthcare workers in three districts and no RTPCR testing lab in one. In Chhattisgarh, there is a shortage of RTPCR testing in three districts; four districts have high hospital bed occupancy rates, State capital Raipur has limited oxygen availability and three districts have health workforce shortage. In Gujarat and UP testing numbers are a “big issue.”
While a Government hospital in Patna made a “fatal” error by mistakenly declaring an alive Covid 19 patient as dead while handing over another person’s body to his kin. Adding to woes, faceless, unrecognized and unappreciated migrant workers have started leaving Mumbai, Delhi and Punjab signaling shortage of labour which could lead to the economy nose-diving.
Also despite flexibility hospitals complain of be given limited doses when they have a capacity to administer 1,000 vaccines a day. Some were scared of getting the jab and others said they needed more information. Not a few wanted to brave it out and left it to God.
Worse, doctors are flummoxed by the virus’s mutants raging across the country. Is it homegrown, UK, South Africa or Brazil strain? Either way it is multiplying three times faster than the earlier wave of infections, thereby exerting enormous pressure on the medical infrastructure.
Moreover, we seem to have overestimated our ability and underestimated the virus. Unfortunately, the current approach appears to be “business as usual” with no strict compliance to Covid 19-appropriate behavior. See how our ‘maskless’ unfettered political leaders have thrown caution to the winds and are busy campaigning, addressing mammoth election rallies with voters shoulder-to-shoulder sans mask and adherence to virus protocol.
Certainly, we can put it down to Covid fatigue, complacency and nonchalant approach as citizens drop masks, shun social distancing and party more so once they are administered the first vaccine dose, despite the contagion strike being noxious, rudely reminding us that it hadn’t gone anywhere. Compounding matters our fragile health apparatus is again falling short.
Asserted NITI Aayog member Dr Paul, “We are going from bad to worse. No State should have been complacent when the numbers began falling, as the pandemic was not over. If we don’t keep our guard up, we will never break the chain of viral transmission permanently.” Adding, “The whole country is facing a severe, intensive situation now and is at risk as every new person the virus infects, it has a chance to mutate.”
Questionably, have no lessons been learnt in one year? Are we heading for States-wide lockdown? Is India prepared to handle the second wave with insights gained from a year of contagion management? What about the economic fallout?
Alas, trust our politicians to politicize the pandemic. Many Opposition-ruled States bellowed ‘vaccine shortage,’ accusing the Centre of refusing to give any assurance on its supply, just to score brownie points. The Government has mismanaged the situation by exporting vaccine resulting in a shortage in the country, stated the Congress.
Presently, with over 25 lakhs vaccinated, data based analysis shows at an average rate of four million doses a day it will take till mid-June to inoculate 100 million Indians. In a 1.3 billion plus country this might not be enough to either slow the virus spread or turn the tide on its own. Also the health establishment only concentrated on its inoculation drive instead of testing, monitoring and contact tracing. Forgetting, that the battle against the virus needed to be fought on multiple fronts.
Consequently, the Government needs to intensify its inoculation drive, augment its testing facilities on a national scale, maintain readiness of public health and clinical infrastructure, including field hospitals, insure adequate vaccine supply and target its distribution where most required, minimize wastage and approve more vaccines. Alongside, States need to accelerate testing, tracing and treat, insure public compliance and do district mapping for equitable distribution. The private sector should be given a larger role and vaccine confidence promoted at the community level.
States could learn from Assam whereby it plans to include district hospitals, medical colleges and healthcare centres with cold-chain facilities at the village, block and district levels. As also set up additional vaccine centres in areas with high concentration of vulnerable population. States and private hospitals must be allowed to source vaccines directly and adapt inoculation strategies to tackle localized infection surges and hesitancy/ignorance among diverse groups.
The grim truth is Covid 19 demands greater responsibility from both Government and citizens. The ongoing Mahakumbh in Uttarakhand is a classic example of how politics of faith is allowed to trample science even as farmers protests across Punjab, Haryana and UP enhance the risk to the aam aadmi.
Our policy makers, medical experts and the public need to aggressively band together to fight the virus on war footing with three ‘Ts’, ‘Test, Track, Treat’. Limited micro lockdowns have already been imposed in some cities and the threat of a more stringent lockdown looms large if the health system continues to be overwhelmed.
Along-with an effective control game plan, we need to draw new strategies to keep pace with the ever increasing mutants, contain the virus, rapidly vaccinate more sections of the population, renew Covid appropriate behavior, step up genomic surveillance to track down variants and make long-term policy changes to reduce the adverse impact. Whither our Sainyam and Sankalp? Crisis time calls for togetherness as we head into a cautious new world — with Orwellian overtones. We must have courage and take a rational view at known facts and act accordingly. Else the virus will rip open the social and economic scars of 2020 which are still to heal. What gives?