The unprecedented surge in the daily caseload of Covid-19 infections and most other parameters related to the pandemic calls for immediate and concerted action by the Union and state governments. As per data, the number of new infections in 24 hours crossed one lakh for the first time on Sunday, which did not happen even when India saw a peak the previous time in mid-September last year. The number dropped a bit the next day but not substantially, and does not show signs of a further fall. The daily number of deaths, which hovered around 100 in early March this year, has more than quadrupled a month later. The average test positivity rate is now around 6.8 per cent, which is way high compared with 2.3 recorded in the first week of March. The reproduction number, or R0, has become 1.5, which again is a significant increase from 1.32 a month ago.
While the Union government is yet to draw up a national plan to contain the virus spread, several states that have been hit hard have started taking their own. Maharashtra, which accounts for almost half of the daily new cases, has imposed night curfew from 8 pm to 7 am, starting on Monday. The weekends will be locked down from 8 pm on Friday to 7 am on Monday except for essential, medical and transportation services. The state has also banned gatherings of five or more people throughout the day. The Delhi government on Tuesday declared a night curfew on the national capital that lasts from 10 pm to 5 am for this month. Odisha, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Punjab have also declared night curfews with similar conditions.
The Union government does not seem to have a very wide window to operate before the nation goes under a second national lockdown which would paralyse its economy. It should consult all stakeholders and come to a consensus on banning every event that has the potential to become a super spreader. There must be a total ban or strict control on religious and social events like the way they were restricted during the lockdown. The government must also return to the board room which it would have prepared last year, reassess the hospital inventory such as beds, intensive care units and ventilators and see if they need to be augmented. The Maharashtra chief minister has already sounded caution about the facilities, and it must be taken as a dire warning.
The vaccination programme is in the third phase now, and the government must open it for all, as demanded by several states such as Delhi. At present, only those aged above 45 are eligible. The youngsters may have better immunity but they can act as carriers of the virus and infect the older people. There too, the global trend is that younger people are being affected more by the newer variants. The government must address the production and supply bottlenecks and ensure that the inoculation programme becomes one of the massive healthcare movements India has ever seen. It must fire on all cylinders if it were to contain the virus and avoid another lockdown.