Updated: March 29, 2021 7:23:08 am
India’s COVID-19 infection curve had dipped sharply in September last year. Despite surging for a few weeks during the festive season, the virus seemed to have entered a phase of sustained decline by the end of 2020. But the situation began to take a turn for the worse again in February. Repeated warnings by epidemiologists that India was beginning to mimic countries in Europe that have been struck by a second COVID wave did not seem to have got adequate traction with the country’s pandemic-weary population. From about 25,000 in late February, India’s daily caseload crossed 60,000 last week. Daily deaths, which had remained under 100 for most of February, have crossed 250. These are worrying developments. However, with two vaccines and knowledge gained from the year-long fight against the pandemic, the country is much better placed to take on the current wave compared to last year when it was forced into a lockdown.
A meeting on March 27 between central and state-level health officials shone a light on the slackness in observing COVID-appropriate behaviour during the recent surge. There is reluctance to use face-masks — as high as 55 per cent according to a study conducted in Maharashtra — indifference towards social distancing, even amongst acquaintances of the COVID-affected, and delays in taking the critically-ill to hospital. These speak of a breakdown in the communication initiatives that played a critical role in checking the virus last year. Even more disturbing is the reported laxity amongst officials in tracing contacts and monitoring micro-containment zones.
From April 1, the vaccination drive will be opened to all people over 45. This is a welcome move, especially because government data show the high vulnerability of people in this age group. There is an urgent case for making the drive even more expansive. Less than 5 per cent of the country’s population has received the jab — in contrast, the UK has inoculated nearly 30 per cent and the US more than 10 per cent of its population. While the middle classes in the metros have shown enthusiasm, the uptake of the anti-COVID vaccine is reportedly slow in smaller towns and rural areas. The government should give serious thought to throwing open the vaccines to the entire working population, especially in the 46 districts which have become hotspots in the second wave. The need for flexible strategies and constant improvisation has been amongst the most important learnings in the battle against the pandemic. It’s time to put it into practice.
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