India is facing a serious surge in Covid-19 spread over the last three weeks. The all-India figure has reached 274,000 new cases in last twenty-four hours. It has been over the two hundred thousand mark for the fifth day running. Mortality and positivity rates have skyrocketed. Hospitals are overstretched and staff overworked. There is a shortage of ventilators, essential drugs and beds for new patients in most states. Many states are blaming the central government for the same while forgetting that Health is a state subject.
As far as vaccines and vaccinations are concerned, Delhi Chief Minister has been the most vocal in demanding an opening of the vaccination drive for all and allowing door to door vaccination drive. Most doctors and experts do not agree on the door-to-door method of vaccination in view of the cold chain and post vaccination monitoring needs. It must also be remembered that part of the staff for a door-to-door vaccination drive will have to come from existing health staff. Given that most hospitals and other para medical health workers are already overburdened, any diversion of the manpower will have an adverse effect on the overall health care in the state.
To India’s credit it has already administered over 120 million doses which is the second highest in the world behind USA which has reached a figure of 131 million. This is no mean feat. Average per 100 people for the world is 11.35 doses while in India it is 10.45 which is very comparable. One should not forget that the world average is primarily dominated by developed western nations in USA and Europe, the figure for rest of the world will be abysmally low.
There are constraints on the availability of vaccines, logistics involved and the effort needed to administer the same. Measures to enhance production of vaccines and use of other foreign vaccines have already been taken and in coming weeks the availability will increase.
One hopes that states will be well prepared to handle the same instead of reacting post availability. There is a need for selectively including people below the age of 45 years but as on date the country is not ready for a universal rollout. States should consider groups like industrial workers, courier/ delivery boys, shopkeepers, eateries and street vendors among others. There is a need for greater focus on large urban areas since they report much higher number of cases instead of merely going by population figures of each state.
Why do states forget that health is a state subject? What stopped the states from being prepared for a resurgence of the virus? Should the states not have planned for basic needs like hospital beds, ventilators and essential drugs? Did anyone stop the states from entering into advance contracts or stock Remdesivir for the needs of the state? Is it not a fact that once the cases started reducing from October last year, the state authorities became complacent despite warning signs from many parts of the world of a second, third or even a fourth wave and the new mutants that seemed to be more deadly? Closer home, has the state of Maharashtra not been sending enough signals for over two months about the resurgence of the virus? Unfortunately, the states did not follow the logic of being over prepared instead of being underprepared.
Take the case of Delhi, perhaps the most easily manageable state in the country. By all counts the authorities have been found wanting on every aspect of preparedness. On 17 April, 2021, Delhi CM said, “Cases have gone up really fast. That is why we are facing shortages even though everything seemed under control until a few days ago. But the speed at which this corona is growing, no one knows where its peak will be.” If ever there was a defeatist statement by a leader, this has to be on top of the list.
On 26/27 January this year Delhi recorded only 97 cases in the twenty-four-hour period. Today, 81 days later, the count is over 25,000 with a positivity rate above 20% as compared to less than 0.32% earlier. If Delhi authorities had monitored the developments in Maharashtra or across the world for last two months, it would have been clear that the situation in Delhi too would worsen. The failure of the state government to be proactive in planning has resulted in the precarious situation that Delhi finds itself in today.
The cost of a locally manufactured ventilator varies from about Rs 150,000 to 350,000. Just for the record, Delhi government could have bought 2,000 of these at an average cost of about Rs 250,000 each for every Rs 50 crore spent on inconsequential television and other advertisements in last few months. There was no need for the Chief Minister to exhort the people to get vaccinated by giving his own family’s example and highlighting the fact that he was suffering from diabetes. An allocation of Rs 100 crore could have ensured enough ventilators and additional beds for Delhi to be fully prepared. Is he not guilty of wasting tax payer’s money for self-aggrandizement?
It defies logic when a Cabinet Minister from Maharashtra says that Modi government is not allowing drug makers to sell Remdesivir to Maharashtra. Or when the same Minister says that Mr Modi’s photo should be printed on each death certificate when death takes place because of the virus. More recently, Bengal Chief Minister stated that Mr Modi should resign since he had failed to plan for fighting the second wave of Coronavirus. She also accused Mr Modi of exporting vaccines instead of banning exports and not ensuring enough oxygen cylinders in the country.
But the height of absurdity was when she said in a rally, ‘The BJP cannot tackle the COVID-19 spike even in Gujarat, and has brought the entire country, including West Bengal, to such a pass.’ She forgot that she is as much to blame for the rise in cases in Bengal due to the electioneering as any other party. In another outburst against the Prime Minister she said, ‘Had they (central government) given us the consent, we would have been able to vaccinate every resident of the state.’ Today, she and her government are failing to provide medical support to an average 7,000 cases that the state is reporting on a daily basis. But in a political rally she asserts that she can vaccinate all the 100 million citizens of the state. Being the devious politician that she is, she purposely does not attribute any time frame to this claim.
It is time the states and centre stop fighting or blaming each other and instead join hands in the fight against the virus. In principle the local infrastructure, facilities and medical needs have to be organised by the states themselves. The central government can take the lead in increasing availability of vaccines and concentrate on macro aspects like international travel, interstate travel, research and development of vaccines and drugs apart from keeping track of international developments in the fight against the virus. This fight is not likely to end anytime soon, so the earlier the centre and state coordinate and cooperate, the better it will be for the nation. The life of each and every Indian, irrespective of his or her political affiliations, is equally valuable. Any politicising of the fight against the virus will invariably be at the cost of the nation and its citizens, and that must be avoided.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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