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Politically sanctioned events threaten to set off a second Covid peak

Despite the sharpest weekly Covid surge – last week’s fresh infection count of 2.6 lakh was 1.05 lakh cases more than the week before – contradictions galore mark the Indian response. Blunt instruments like lockdowns and night curfews have been imposed on Maharashtra, Gujarat, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Lakhs of livelihoods are again threatened, but potentially superspreader events like the multi-state election campaigns and the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar are being glossed over even as they violate all Covid safety norms. Massive human congregations are spared social distance policing while individual livelihoods get axed. Such are India’s cruel paradoxes.

Since last September when the first Covid wave peaked, India’s economy has raised itself several notches. Encouraging GST collections are just one manifestation of revival. Carelessness at this point, which has all the markings of a second wave, could drag us down again. Governments are in a mood to blame citizens instead of getting their messaging right. This sarkari attitude defends peremptory imposition of lockdowns by blaming social distancing violations for forcing their hand. Such doublespeak that practises political expediency but punishes citizens when infections go out of hand must stop forthwith.

While there’s still time, leading politicians from the PM and CMs down to Union/ state ministers and top opposition leaders must insist on masking at their rallies. Unfortunately, digital rallies find no favour. Given the enormous expenditure running into crores that political parties incur on the campaign trail, distributing free masks at rallies will hardly tax their purses (wholesale prices of surgical masks have dropped below Re 1 and of N95 masks to Rs 10). No less worrisome is the Kumbh Mela where an estimated 30 million pilgrims are expected, despite the once in 12 years congregation being shortened to one month.

A number of people are testing positive daily in Haridwar questioning the wisdom of Uttarakhand CM Tirath Singh Rawat overturning his predecessor’s decision to mandate Covid negative certificates. With lakhs of devotees fanning out across the country after the pilgrimage, the second wave could go fast out of hand. Vaccination, the other countermeasure, has progressed far too slowly to make a perceptible difference. One option is to initiate mass vaccination in the 50 districts with surging case count. Another is to further relax priority restrictions nationwide. Scrap all movement restrictions, mandate masking and vaccinate faster. Don’t mess with the economy again.

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



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