Updated: September 10, 2020 10:21:55 am
On Sunday, India overtook Brazil as the country with the second-largest number of COVID-19 cases. For six weeks now, the country has been reporting a record number of cases almost every day. Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh account for more than 45 per cent of this caseload. At a meeting, last week, with collectors and medical authorities of 17 districts of these states — the country’s worst-affected hotspots — the Centre was alerted to some of the reasons for the failure to check the pandemic.
The meeting revealed that a large number of grass root health workers — ASHA activists and volunteers — do not know what they are expected to do in containment zones. District medical officers reportedly evinced very little knowledge of the special measures required to shield and treat vulnerable groups — the elderly and those with comorbidities. The Centre has now prepared two manuals — one for surveillance workers on the ground, and the other for supervisors monitoring the teams. The spread of the pandemic has made such meetings — and handholding — imperative. However, in reaching out to district authorities, the Centre must not do anything that comes in the way of states’ framing local-level strategies to curb the pandemic.
This is not the first time that the Centre has lent its weight to state-level efforts against the pandemic. In June, its intervention helped the Delhi government to step up the fight against the virus at a time when the pathogen was surging alarmingly in the capital. The Centre had played the role of a facilitator then, helping the Delhi government to bolster its medical facilities, arranging testing equipment and providing expert guidance in redrawing containment zones. Medical authorities in the worst-affected districts could similarly benefit from the help that the Centre can provide because of the financial resources and medical expertise at its disposal. Pune, which has overtaken Delhi as the worst affected Indian city, for instance, has struggled to monitor its containment zones. The two “jumbo” COVID-treatment facilities in the city have reportedly been embroiled in controversy with patients complaining of improper treatment.
Last week, the Centre also held a meeting with officials from Delhi, which has been reporting an uptick in cases since the last week of August — the city registered its highest spike in 76 days on Tuesday. The Delhi government maintains that the recent wave is different from the surge in late May-early June — testing has been scaled up nearly four times, the city’s case fatality ratio is on the wane and it has sufficient medical reserves to deal with an emergency. But the ways of the virus are unpredictable. Emergencies could require concerted ground-level action involving the Centre, state and local or district authorities. That might test the delicate balance between them. In walking this tight-rope, the Centre should play the role of an enabler — in the 17-worst-affected districts, and elsewhere.