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Can We Afford This Wave?

People too are tired of all the restrictions, the loss of wages, loss of esteem and fatigue. More than 50% of the cases have originated in Maharashtra and its cities, defying normal logic.

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A second Covid 19 wave seems to be taking over lives that were slowly returning to some semblance of normalcy. Suddenly, with more than a lakh and half cases reported daily, this month, we find the hospitals and the doctors pushed to the wall a second time in a year, with almost all the beds occupied. Additionally, a large number are home quarantined. If we are now pushed to occupy those empty trains and empty factories converted as temporary Covid treatment centres again, it would be heart-breaking with the recovery story going horribly wrong.

Figures today stand at more than 13.4 million cases and 169,000 related deaths, since the pandemic manifested in the country. By February this year, everyone thought the pandemic was under control with infections having fallen by at least 90% of what was in early September last year. We seven succeeded in developing not one but two indigenous vaccines. The process of vaccinating too started earlier than expected and almost 80 Million were vaccinated as on date. What then has gone wrong? A tenfold rise in a months’ time is appalling. Almost all the major States are now back with restrictions or partial lockdowns that become full lockdowns over the weekends. What can be done from here on? What can the government do now, that it did all that it could.

What is unnerving this time is that the wave is being driven by several new variants, several of which are circulating globally. Some of them spread more easily than others. A larger spread means potentially more deaths. A general lack of discipline notwithstanding, we have massive religious congregations, and people movements. People too are tired of all the restrictions, the loss of wages, loss of esteem and fatigue. More than 50% of the cases have originated in Maharashtra and its cities, defying normal logic. What could explain this?

Mumbai is its financial capital and Pune its cultural capital. Both are bursting at the seams. Both offer several opportunities to make a decent living. Travel and suitable transport are the keys to reach places of work. In Mumbai, the local trains, jam packed most of the time, connect the suburbs without which the city would be deserted. People even travel back and forth between Mumbai and Pune, a distance of about 190 kms every single day. These local trains carried more than 8 million every day before the lockdown. They resumed again on 1st February this year with restrictions and carried 2.6 million on 1st March. There are other transports operating albeit with lesser numbers. Could these have been the carriers? The State also has better hospital infrastructure and better testing facilities that allow more detections. Still the pandemic had to resurface somewhere. One only hopes that it doesn’t spread to other parts of the country from here on.

The state has announced several restrictions beginning this month. Several other States like Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Kerala and Punjab which have also seen rise in infections announced restrictions. It is unfortunate that the brunt of the lockdown would be borne by small traders, small businessmen and migrant workers like they did the last time.

Stringent lockdown did slowdown the spread of the virus around June/July last year. However, it had a profound effect on the daily lives of several people. Migration became the order of the day and small businesses collapsed. But come October, restrictions eased out with people slowly picking up the threads of their broken lives. This ensured people movement and contact, but. many of them paying scant respect to covid norms. After the lull of the next few months, we have both infections and death rates rising again.

All is not bleak this time round though. Have we not seen Tier-II cities and even some of our villages accepting technology, and its use in their daily lives, be it in teaching, learning or working from home? Further, there is a lot more data available to understand the virus better. Medical infrastructure is better equipped and health care too is refurbished and is responding better. The pandemic has fast forwarded the growth of the Indian health sector industry. The Vaccination program has taken off well though most of the people are still to be vaccinated. A years’ time that has elapsed may also have built more immunity in people. However, is this sufficient to ward off the evils of the second wave of infections.

For a start, why should there be restrictions on vaccine takers like age, status of morbidity or whatever? Young, old, rich, poor when vaccinated, only help the larger cause. At least they will stop being carriers. Some prioritising may be required, but then are we not the highest vaccine producing country in the World? Why cannot we allow most of the private hospitals to vaccinate with or without a fee? Can we not insulate our own first before pandering to vaccine diplomacy? Every approved Indian company like the, Zydus Cadila, Panacea Biotec, Indian Immunologicals, Mynvax and Biological E must be encouraged to produce vaccines early, apart from further supporting Bharat Biotech and Serum Institute. Efforts must also be made to allow Sorrento Therapeutics, GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis, Pfizer, J&J, Sputnik and others also to produce and sell approved vaccines in India. In as much as making Government hospitals free for vaccinations for those who cannot afford the cost, why cannot we allow our private hospitals to procure from either Indian vaccine manufacturers directly or even import from companies around the world? There certainly is a population that can afford to pay. Why must they be subsidised or given free? What are the alternatives anyway? Lockdowns will surely slowdown the wheels of economy and the country cannot afford it. A population as large as 1.4 billion will need all the help and resources at this critical time.

The election rallies in the four States and the Union territory only add to the problems on the ground. Kumbh Mela, one of the most important Hindu celebrations, in the city of Haridwar, is just round the corner. More than a million people on normal days and over five million on auspicious days congregate to offer prayers. It could be a potential health emergency in spite of the best efforts of the government. Should we not introspect collectively as a people?

Besides all that is said, a great responsibility lies with us people. We must rigorously comply with public health mitigation strategies, such as vaccination, social distancing, using masks, hand hygiene, isolation and quarantine, to limit spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. What we really need is compliance, vigilance, and resilience.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


Dr S S Mantha

Former Chairman of AICTE, Dr. Mantha is an eminent academician. At present he is Chancellor KL University and Adjunct Professor, NIAS, Bangalore.

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