The good news as India enters the third wave of the pandemic Covid-19 is that hospitalisation and the number of deaths have been significantly lower when compared with the second. Director-general of Indian Council for Medical Research Balram Bhargava attributes this to high vaccination uptake.
The bad news, however, is that the virus’ sweep continues across the nation and abroad. India reported more than three lakh new cases on Thursday, the first time in the third wave, and close to 500 deaths. The Union government has marked 10 states — Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Odisha, Delhi and Rajasthan as states of concern. Delhi, for a change, looks like having gone past the peak, according to its health minister.
The global scene is no better, but what causes concern is that Asia has been caught in this wave more than the last time. The surge is so sharp now, as the continent’s share in global numbers going from eight per cent to 18 per cent in the last four weeks.
India as of now has fully vaccinated 72 per cent of its eligible population. This feat has helped India avoid a situation where its healthcare infrastructure is overwhelmed. It may be remembered that the government played hide-and-seek with the vaccination programme in-between, and handed over the responsibility to the state governments. It’s a determined stand taken by the Supreme Court that brought the Union government back in action. Now it has paid dividends. The government may well speed up the vaccination programme further to protect its people. The Prime Minister has called for a house-to-house vaccination campaign. This must now be taken up on a war-footing.
The government may consider favourably the recommendation of the Subject Expert Committee (SEC) on Covid-19 of the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO granting regular market approval to Covid-19 vaccines Covishield and Covaxin, which are now authorised only for emergency use in India. It could result in the vaccine becoming available freely in the market which could help the vaccination programme, especially that of the booster dose.
The government has told the Supreme Court earlier this week it has no plans to make vaccination mandatory for anyone in the country. It is a fair stance when it comes to the larger picture but a public emergency may force governments’ hands, which could result in the curtailment of certain fundamental rights. An unvaccinated person carries a larger risk of contracting the infection and spreading it. In the bargain, the governments who battle the virus on the ground may be forced to come up with measures that will restrict access of unvaccinated people to public places. The Assam government has already introduced such a measure, banning such people in places except hospitals. More states will be forced to take this route as a section of people, very well educated included, refuse to go for the jab for reasons best known to themselves. They have the freedom to refuse the vaccine but the government has the responsibility to protect public health. Governments will be justified in plumbing for every possible way for vaccinating people as it has proved to be the best insurance against hospitalisation and death due to the pandemic.