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Expanding India’s basket of vaccines is smart rethink. Stop unmasked mass gatherings next

Centre’s decision to fast track approvals for vaccines used in other countries is a welcome rethink that recognises the sheer magnitude of the surging second Covid wave. Official rethink must also apply to two events that are hugely violating Covid appropriate norms and spreading this dangerous infection of indifference all across the country: Kumbh Mela and the Bengal assembly elections. This would call for suspending mass congregations be they religious or political. Until then, the thronging of lakhs of unmasked people at Haridwar’s bathing ghats and Bengal’s maidans reflects policy incoherence, which in turn muddles citizens’ behaviour.

These project a sense of normalcy when the reality across many cities is of healthcare workers at their wits’ end. Netas and cadres, sadhus and devotees, appearing shorn of mask and Covid concerns on the largest political and religious stages, defeat the hard work of everyone else, especially healthcare and frontline workers, to keep lives and livelihoods afloat. As was predicted, norms set for the Kumbh Mela like checking for Covid negative certificates have fallen by the wayside in the crush of millions. Of course, even the pretence of safe oversight has been missing in the various assembly elections. With UP preparing for panchayat polls, heed the lesson from Bengal there, and let it not be business as usual.

As people disperse from Uttarakhand to hundreds of cities, towns and villages, disease surveillance will also fail. Meanwhile visuals from Gujarat, MP and Chhattisgarh of bodies piling up at mortuaries and crematoria are a warning to everyone to mask up and vaccinate. But instead of helping mobilise more beds with oxygen support in local hospitals, promoting safe Covid behaviour etc, many netas are demanding VIP medical treatment according to doctors’ associations.

Ever since Covaxin’s approval without passing Phase 3 trials, there has been a reasonable demand in India to allow vaccines that have passed Phase 3 trials in other countries to find a market here. Now that the demand has been heard, a war footing effort by making advance payments to vaccine companies and easing bottlenecks in securing ingredients and components must proceed. Plus, governments must get their messaging right. Netas can’t push curfews at night and be seen unmasked and politicking in the morning. Universal masking in public is the fastest way to beat this wave: Let’s embrace the power of collective behaviour change and mask like East Asian countries.



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This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.



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