Time for a more pragmatic way ahead to fight the virus

The pandemic does not seem to be receding with close to 375,000 thousand new cases every day. It is time to call a spade a spade instead of living in a make-believe world. The nation will never be able to match up with necessary health infrastructure to provide proper medical aid to such huge numbers. In fact, if it is any consolation, no nation can hope to do it. It is no secret that more developed and richer western nations including USA have faced and continue to face the same problem? Therefore, it is time to think of other measures that may come to our aid instead of just concentrating on beds, ventilators or oxygen.

First and the foremost is to see how to bring down the daily count of new cases. And nothing works better in this regard than a strict lockdown for a minimum period of three weeks. It is surprising that the government is dithering on this decision. Yes, economy will suffer, but is it not suffering today? Will it not suffer as the new cases mount and positivity rate goes up? It is better to have a planned closure with a known and calculated fall in economy than to let things be. The latter will bleed the economy, slowly but surely, and the extent of loss will never be known. Good governance relies on known parameters rather than on unknown ones or a ‘hoping for the best’ attitude.

Next is the state of our doctors, para medical staff, other health workers, essential services personnel and police. They have all been overworked for over a year now. Many have fallen prey to the virus. Fatigue is a major concern and many may succumb to it. It is time to chalk out a plan to reinvigorate this manpower by looking after their welfare. There is need to give them periodic relief in batches, implementing measures to motivate and incentivize them. Above all it is time to augment their numbers to reduce their load.

In most hospitals today normal consultations and OPD services are minimal as COVID-19 cases take precedence and have lien over most hospital services. There is need to see if doctors from less active specialties can augment the ranks of physicians dealing with COVID-19. Plans must be in place to induct final year MBBS and post graduate students too if required instead of rushing them in at the last moment. For other categories of health and frontline workers, the authorities must see this as an opportunity to create employment on contractual basis with minimum six months commitment. It has the potential to generate millions of jobs for the short term which is the need of the hour.

A lot of temporary and makeshift hospital facilities have been created in different parts of the country. It is time to think of making some of these permanent as we go along in this fight against the virus. After all, even in normal times every region in the country is woefully short of proper medical facilities. This will be a cost-effective step and serve long term interests of the nation.

‘Oxygen Shortage’ has been the most discussed topic in the last two weeks. It is time to take a more holistic view and look into other essential drugs and equipment before they too go the ‘oxygen’ way. It is quite likely that the country may face shortage of some essential items, particularly where our manufacturers or traders depend on China for import of raw materials or finished products. Alternative sources must be found even if the costs are higher. The policy announcement by ICMR for COVID-19 test two days ago is an important step in this regard.

There is no doubt that vaccination remains the most important weapon in the fight against the virus. Sceptics aside, the nation has done extremely well so far in this regard. Any discussion on percentage of people vaccinated or comparison with other smaller nations whose population is less than the cities of Mumbai or Delhi is futile. It is time to accept the fact that India cannot hope to vaccinate its entire population in next few months. In any case, this whole bogey of reaching herd immunity if 75-80% population is vaccinated has been turned on its head as it has no scientific basis. New mutants come with a set of fresh challenges that makes the fight against Coronavirus very dynamic in nature.

Just for the record, Switzerland vaccinated only 8% of its population in four months starting from December 2020. So please stop ranting about our vaccination drive which was a huge success till political one-upmanship derailed it in last one week when it was made open for all above eighteen years of age.

There are a lot of cries from various quarters to induct the Army for various services and essential duties. The most recent one being from Delhi government / High Court to hand over distribution and management oxygen supplies to Army. This has a few implications that must be understood. Firstly, Army personnel can only come in as a stop gap arrangement. If the virus continues for next year or more which is very much on the cards, it will be impossible to engage army manpower for so long. More importantly, if this is an admission by the civilian authorities of their failure to resolve simple issues, including center-state coordination, then it is a matter of serious concern for the nation. It is time authorities and leadership at all levels rise to meet the challenges ahead instead of passing the buck or blaming each other.

Government has announced many relief packages amounting to lakhs of crores. There is a need to introspect and see if these have really impacted the common man in any way.

Today a citizen at the bottom of the pyramid needs direct relief and not a relief caged in some vague package starting at the macro level that hardly ever filters down. His day-to-day needs have to be met in cash or kind for next few months. If that does not happen then many more will die because of causes other than virus infection.

It is time to focus on saving lives and health of all citizens, all other considerations are secondary. Canada, UK, Germany and other countries have been implementing lockdowns successfully on a regular basis for over a year with different levels of severity as required. It has helped them to keep the number of infections in check. It is time India does the same and the immediate need is a three-week strict lockdown to bring the daily infected numbers down to a manageable level.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.


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