The Union government’s directive to states which witness a spurt in the daily case load of Covid-19 to tighten the testing procedures and the announcement that it will soon start the vaccination programme for people other than frontline workers have come not one day late. The pandemic shows no sign of going; in fact, it continues to make lives difficult in nations across the globe. The number of deaths due to the virus in the United States has crossed 5 lakhs; Britain, another hard-hit nation, which has already vaccinated one third of its adult population, sees a return to normal life only by June. Both France and Germany are worried about the turn the pandemic has taken. France has not yet announced a national lockdown, but there is night-time curfew. As many as 14 of the 16 states in Germany report higher than the target level of infections.
Back home in India, the scene is far from comfortable. As many as 16 of the 36 states and Union territories have reported a rise in the Covid numbers last week while seven states — Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Chhattisgarh, Delhi and Haryana — have reported a dramatic hike. Several districts in Maharashtra are under lockdown. India at present hosts all the important variants of the virus and scientists are afraid that some of them could frustrate vaccination drive by mutation.
This situation leaves the Union government with little option other than taking a serious look at the way the pandemic is fought at the ground. The nation has now practically done away with every restriction that was part of the lockdown announced last year. Life has returned to near normal in most parts of the nation.
This is incompatible with the reality, and hence the government must take a relook at the restrictions before it is too late, including those on social, political and religious congregations. Educational institutions have started functioning in most states and now some states are opening even the primary classes. The government must seek expert advice on the opening of educational institutions and share it with the states.
India has targeted to vaccinate three crore frontline workers in the first phase and is at present close to half the target. It must speed up the process and soon announce the roll-out of the programme for the next target group — people who are aged above 50 years. The government has announced that it will rope in the private sector in the next phase. At present, only 0.8 vaccine doses, the lowest, have been given to 100 people in countries with highest total vaccinations. Hence the government should waste no time and come up with a transparent policy to co-opt private hospitals for the massive programme. The renewed thrust on RT-PCR tests is also welcome; the Union government should think of incentivising such tests by the states. There has to be a concerted effort by the Centre and the states to stop another wave of the pandemic.