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Sunday, May 09, 2021

Both jabs and containment: Centre points surge states to UK example

India's strategy currently is focussed on micro-containment rather than a full lockdown, restricting local movement, but not the inter-state movement of persons and services.

Written by Kaunain Sheriff M | New Delhi |
Updated: April 16, 2021 7:54:31 am
corona vaccine drive, Covid-19 Vaccination, Covid-19 Cases, corona vaccine herd immunity, corona vaccine shots, corona vaccine cost, Indian expressA woman whose husband died of Covid is consoled by her children, outside a mortuary in Delhi on Thursday. (Reuters)

A record 2 lakh new cases were reported in 24 hours as the coronavirus surge continued to sweep across the country on Thursday.

Delhi became the latest state on Thursday to announce a local weekend curfew. In the multiple meetings held over the last one week with states, the Centre has advised states to focus on restricting local movement, vaccinating aggressively, and roping in doctors from other states to ease the pressure on the stretched local healthcare workforce.

Top government sources who are part of the team monitoring the pandemic situation, told The Indian Express that states had been given the example of the United Kingdom, which had adopted aggressive vaccination and containment in the form of a lockdown together when the new, highly infectious strain of the virus led to a surge in December last year.

India’s strategy currently is focussed on micro-containment rather than a full lockdown, restricting local movement, but not the inter-state movement of persons and services.

“There is a danger when the numbers are increasing that you tend to overemphasise vaccination and underemphasise containment, surveillance, testing, and enforcement of Covid-19 appropriate behaviour. When there is a surge, merely by increasing the number of people who have been administered the first shot, you don’t achieve meaningful results,” the states have been told in the meeting, the sources said.

“When people say that the UK, which has a population of 6.6 crore, has vaccinated 2/3rds of its population and the (case) numbers have come down as a result – that is a fallacious narrative. Because if you look at scientific papers on the UK, they are saying the numbers came down because they (the UK) vaccinated large numbers under strict lockdown. Therefore, containment was done. But when you don’t have a lockdown, micro-containment has to be done, movement has to be restricted, and people have to be tested,” the states have been told, the sources said.

Union Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla and Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan on Thursday chaired a high-level meeting to review the situation in Madhya Pradesh. In this meeting too, it was stressed that the state should “curb the non-essential movement of large groups of people and social gatherings” especially in the urban areas, that could turn into superspreader events.

Sources said that central teams have reported an “extreme” form of fatigue among healthcare workers in the second wave. “Doctors and nurses are getting extremely tired and fatigued. We have told the states that they should have a roster and get a day off. We have told them that they have the provision of utilising NHM (National Health Mission) funds to take people on contract. All Northeastern states have taken doctors and nurses on one-year contracts. These are nurses from Odisha and West Bengal. The bigger states should be doing it [too],” sources said.

On Thursday, the Centre said it was mapping 12 high case-burden states – Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Haryana, and Rajasthan – against multiple oxygen sources across the country.

“Accordingly, 4,880 metric tonnes (MT), 5,619 MT, and 6,593 MT have been indicated to these 12 states for meeting their projected demands as on April 20, April 25, and April 30 respectively,” the Centre said.

A tender will be floated for the import of 50,000 MT of medical oxygen. “MOHFW has been directed to finalise the tender, and also explore possible sources for import identified by the missions of MEA,” the Centre said.

The 162 Pressure Swing Adsorption (PSA) plants that manufacture oxygen, sanctioned under PM-Cares, were “being closely reviewed for early completion of 100 per cent”, the Centre said. “Empowered group 2 directed MoHFW to identify another 100 hospitals in far-flung locations for consideration of sanction for installation of PSA plants.”

Maharashtra, which is facing demands beyond its production capacity, is now utilising surplus medical oxygen on a daily basis from steel plants like JSW in Dolvi (Maharashtra), SAIL in Bhilai (Chhattisgarh) and JSW in Bellary (Karnataka). Madhya Pradesh is supplementing its oxygen supply from the Bhilai plant.

The Centre is also working on plans to move oxygen tankers by rail. “A sub-group has been formed under the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) with Ministry of Railways and transport departments of states to facilitate the movement of transport tankers for Liquid Medical Oxygen (LMO),” the Centre said.

Meanwhile, two days after it announced a liberal regulatory approval regime for foreign vaccine manufacturers, the Centre announced a fast-tracking of applications for registration certificate and import licence, to within three working days from the date of approval of restricted use in emergency situation.

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