By Gyan Pathak
Prime Minister’s calling a virtual meet with Chief Ministers on March 17 on COVID-19 has a special significance amidst new surge in infections which has registered highest single day spike in the last 85 days. The last such high level meeting was held on January 11, just before launch of the vaccination drive on January 16. It would be the eighth such high level interaction since lockdown orders of March 24, 2020.
Outcome of their meetings always fell short of public expectation, infested with shortcomings in containment strategies, and laden with political overtones. It reduced the level of the meetings not more than a routine exercise held at the highest political altitude. The present spike in COVID-19 cases in the country is a proof of strategic failure and therefore the meeting must discuss it to have an infallible outcome this time, since the country cannot afford further spike in infections and subsequent lockdowns.
The last meeting was held after the two vaccine candidates, Covashield and Covaxin, were given ‘emergency use approvals’, and there was high hopes of containing the contagion. There were serious shortcomings in the inoculation strategy, which were already pointed out by several experts, but the high level meeting did not considered them to be discussed. We have now seen the result. The vaccinations drive is too slow to meet the target of even first phase of inoculation to be completed by July 2021, for 30 crore people including 3 crore healthcare and frontline workers. Government even failed in their campaign in removing ‘vaccine hesitancy’ among the people which has slowed down the vaccination drive. Even healthcare professionals and workers are found to be hesitant in receiving the vaccines despite very low level of adverse effects of the vaccines in our country.
The meeting must take note of the current global scenario regarding one of the vaccines, Covashield, which is reportedly causing complications including blood clotting, and more and countries in the west have been putting its use on hold. WHO has called for an emergency meeting on the issue, though it has said that no death has been conclusively linked to any of the vaccines. As for Covaxin, the trial mode tag is have been causing much ‘vaccine hesitancy’ among people.
Currently, India is the third worst-hit country by the pandemic after the United States and Brazil. It recorded 26,291 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, its highest single-day spike in 85 days, taking the country’s infection tally to 1,13,85,339, according to Union health ministry data. The death count due to the disease increased to 1,58,725 with 118 more fatalities being recorded in a day. Registering an upward trend for five days in a row, the total active caseload has gone up to 2,19,262 which is 1.93 per cent of the total infections in the country, while the recovery rate has dropped to 96.68 per cent. It’s a matter of serious concern because of spread of hundreds of new strains of coronaviruses.
Union Health minister Dr Harsh Vardhan has pointed out that people’s disregard for social distancing and other guidelines are responsible for new surge in the COVID-19 infection. It is partially true because he did not talk about how government government’s obligation in enforcing covid-appropriate behaviour. How is it possible to organizes election rallies without encouragement from the government and politicians in which people are participating even without masks? There are other lapses on the part of the government in allowing public gatherings. It is wrong to say that only people are responsible for not following covid-appropriate behaviour. The meeting must take note of the situation, and come up with a proper covid-appropriate behaviour enforcement plan for all, including the politicians. When advisories fail, one needs to enforce them.
Around 85 per cent of new corona cases are in five to six states, DrHarshvardhan has said. These are Maharashtra, Punjab, Karnataka, Gujarat, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu. They have accounted for 82.20 per cent of fatalities on March 15. A rising trajectory of daily new cases is visible in nine states which also include densely populated National Capital Territory of Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, and Haryana. Needless to say, the government in these states need more than simple advisories. Fatalities show that healthcare system needs further strengthening, and the spread of infection shows that our containment measures have serious flaws.
Tracking, treating, and quarantining is still important, and for any lapse in these containing measures, the public administration is solely responsible. The new surge is a proof of such lapses. Cordoning the infected area by brute force may be required in some places, but more wise decision would be changing the vaccination strategy from category based to infection based. Everyone should get vaccination immediately who are most under threat due to proximity with patients in and around an infected area. It may create barrier for further spread of the virus. Only over 3.15 crore doses of vaccines have been administered to date indicating the slowness of the vaccine administration.
Given the rising trajectory of new COVID-19 infections, the PM-CMs must come out with a decision to have an appropriately changed coronavirus containment and vaccination strategy, because the present shortcomings have led to the new spike in cases. Moreover, there should also have a decision for having some emergency plan in place to deal with any eventuality that may arise in case of the country facing second wave of COVID-19 spread and the economic and social fallout thereafter.
In the meantime, the meeting must take note of the rising market power of the corporate which has become a threat to recovery after COVID-19, as an IMF research paper has pointed out. The crisis has hit small and medium enterprises especially hard, causing massive job losses and other economic scars. PM and CMs should do a great service to the nation by putting hold on proposed sale of PSUs to corporate and the implementation of four labour codes, apart from the three farm laws to bring corporate to the agri-sector.