Movement curbs only stop healthcare access and economic activity, not this Covid wave

In a week marked by sharp contrasts, India demonstrated its awesome vaccination capacity notching 4.3 million inoculations in a day, while also recording the highest daily infection count globally. The fatality rate is also uncomfortably high. Clearly 5, 6 or 10 million daily vaccinations are within our reach. Yet we are stumbling badly. Despite beating down the first peak without lockdowns, panicky reactions to the second wave have set in. Markets, consumption trends and service sector pillars like retail chains, hotels and malls have begun to feel the pressure of a new round of lockdowns, movement restrictions and night curfews acutely. A repeat of last year’s dehumanising migrant worker exodus mustn’t happen.

The emergent situation calls for rational responses, with a keen understanding of what each stakeholder can promise and deliver. Indian Medical Association has urged that vaccination be opened to all adults. In response Centre must reveal the constraints, including doses in stock or other limitations of supply, that justify continuing with highly restrictive age-wise inoculation. Citizens will accept government’s explanation and patiently await their turns if production capacity needs ramping up. As of now, however, information asymmetry and over-centralisation make long-term vaccination planning a near impossibility for other stakeholders, even giving states excuses for irrational lockdowns.

Bharat Biotech has reportedly sought Rs 150 crore to expand Covaxin manufacturing capacity. Funds must be sanctioned quickly for all such reasonable demands. Centre must also encourage administrations down the line to innovate local vaccination strategies. Maharashtra wishes to inoculate the 25+ age group, Delhi is looking at all adults. These plans are on hold pending central concurrence, even as several instances of local governments quietly improvising to widen vaccine access are known.

But to be clear, states’ projecting tough love by announcing quasi lockdowns is a cure truly worse than the disease. Take, for instance, preventing Mumbai food delivery executives from working after 8pm. Such whacky moves will not stop the coronavirus but will certainly wound the economy and livelihoods. Instead, states should do themselves a favour by promoting masking and freely distributing masks, pressuring Centre to decentralise vaccination, and improving access to medical facilities, which  the mobility curbs retard. Delhi simultaneously allowing 24×7 vaccination and announcing night curfews exemplifies governance on steroids, as if “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. We can beat this wave too – but with common sense and civic responsibility, masks and vaccinations at full tilt.


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


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