Prime Minister Narendra Modi will chair a meeting with Chief Ministers from all states on April 8 to take stock of the Covid-19 situation in the country. However, before the meeting, let us look at what is going on since India touched its peak number of cases in September 2020.
India had begun reporting a gradual decline in Covid-19 cases after reaching its then peak in September and October 2020. Heading into 2021, many felt that India’s Covid crisis would come to end in the first half of the year as the government began administrating the Covid-19 vaccine to the elderly. However, things have turned from “bad to worse” within the first three months.
What went wrong in India’s fight against Covid-19?
Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan pointed out that the public’s laxity in following Covid-appropriate behaviour is one of the major reasons behind the second sudden surge of Covid-19 cases in India. He has urged people to adhere to Covid-appropriate behaviour by wearing masks and following social distancing guidelines.
Not just Vardhan, several medical experts are continuously appealing to the masses to wear masks, use sanitisers, and adhere to necessary guidelines. However, even to this day, many people across the country are seen not following the essential guidelines.
Let us take the example of the ongoing Assembly election campaigns taking place in four states and a Union Territory. Jam-packed crowds, no social distancing, and no masks are common among these states. Just switch on any news channel and you will see packed crowds attending election rallies. India recorded over one-lakh cases per day in the last couple of days, yet political parties contesting in these states held jam-packed rallies and roadshows. Are people’s lives more valuable than votes?
Take a state like Kerala that recently concluded polling in a single-phase Assembly election. The southern state was on the Centre’s radar as it was contributing to a large number of Covid-19 cases alongside Maharashtra. However, Kerala was witnessing a drop in daily Covid cases just before the election campaigning began. After the campaigning began, many were seen without masks, and those wearing masks were not wearing them correctly.
During campaigning and roadshows, the daily Test Positivity Rate (TPR) in Kerala was between 3% and 4%. However, on April 6 – the polling day – the state reported 3,502 new cases and an increased TPR of 5.93%. The Centre urged Kerala to conduct more RT-PCR tests and increase it to above 70%. However, as per reports, Kerala’s RT-PCR tests have never gone beyond 53%.
Let us take West Bengal as another example. The Election Commission had announced last month that the state Assembly elections would take place in eight phases. Till now, three phases of voting has been completed and another five to go. In these three phases alone, various political parties have held plenty of rallies and roadshows in the state. However, like Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Assam, people attending rallies and roadshows in West Bengal are seen without masks and social distancing.
While India recorded its highest Covid-19 daily spike with over 1.15 lakh positive cases on April 7, 2021, Home Minister Amit Shah is holding four massive roadshows in West Bengal. If one takes a close look at the photos of the roadshows, one will notice that many are not wearing masks and there is no social distancing. As mentioned before, it is not just one party but all political parties are holding such roadshows.
These massive roadshows are taking place a day after the central government said there is an increase in the intensity of the pandemic, leading to the Covid-19 spreading faster than t did in 2020. The Centre pointed out that the next four weeks are very critical.
The Centre has said it will not allow vaccination for adults below 45 years and children anytime soon. According to reports, during the first Covid-19 wave, many patients testing positive for Covid-19 were the elderly. Now, many youngsters are testing positive for Covid-19 since the 60-year-olds are getting the vaccines. Many states have approached the Centre to inoculate those above 18 years, but the latter turned down the requests.
Union health secretary Rajesh Bhushan explained why the Centre is not opening vaccination for all. “The primary aim of vaccination is to reduce mortality among the most vulnerable class of people. Why did we prioritise some groups over others? Because in this phase of vaccination (till around July), vaccines will be in limited supply. Hence we have to prioritise it to the most vulnerable sections of society and this is an established practice across the world,” he told a leading news agency.
Some states are already raising alarm bells as they are running out of vaccine doses. Maharashtra, the worst affected state, has said that they are running out of vaccine doses and need at least 40 lakh more soon.
Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope has claimed that the state might have to stop Covid-19 vaccination after a few days due to the shortage of vaccine doses. He said that the state currently has 14 lakh vaccine doses, which will get over in three days. The state has requested 40 lakh more vaccine doses per week. However, Tope pointed out that the delivery of vaccine doses is slow.
Similarly, reports have emerged that two districts in Andhra Pradesh are also running out of vaccine doses. Recently, Serum Institute of India (SII) CEO Adar Poonawalla told news channels that despite the company producing 60-65 million doses monthly, it is still short of supplying to every Indian that requires the vaccine. The SII CEO said that the company needs Rs 3,000 Crore to scale up production.
Will India call for another nationwide lockdown? The Centre has made it clear that it won’t take place. It has asked states to focus on a ‘test-track-treat’ protocol instead. The question is if it didn’t work when the numbers were low, how is it going to help us now?