Crisis of coordination

| Updated on April 22, 2021

A Centre-State body should be set up to thrash out Covid issues in real time

The second wave of Covid has clearly spun out of control with reports of shortage of oxygen, critical drugs and hospital beds from across the country. With States vying with each other for critical oxygen supplies and an attitude of beggar thy neighbour beginning to rear its head, the Supreme Court has been forced to take suo motu cognisance of the situation. It has asked the Centre for a national Covid action plan to handle the crisis. It is clear that a lack of coordination between the Centre and the States and between the States themselves is to blame for the current situation. The clamour from States for oxygen and Remdesivir and the absence of a central authority to regulate the supplies has led to chaos. All is not lost even now. The Centre has to step in and manage supplies of oxygen to the States based on need. “Beg, borrow or steal, it’s your job,” the Court said in a much-needed rap on the knuckles of the government. The absence of clear management of the pandemic in the last month and more, both on the part of the Centre and the State governments, aggravated by the diversion on account of elections in major States, has brought the country to the brink.

Meanwhile, a separate drama is playing out on the vaccines front with Serum Institute of India, which produces Covishield vaccine, announcing higher prices for supply to States and private hospitals. It is difficult to argue against a market price for private hospitals, with those able to bear the higher price paying for it, but one cannot understand why State governments have to pay a price higher than what the Centre does. After all, the States are going to use the vaccines for those using the public health system — those who cannot afford to pay the market price. In this context, it may not be a bad idea to set up a Centre-State council to manage the supplies of not just vaccines on a real-time basis but also ensure supplies of oxygen to scarce regions; and finally match the financial resources of the States with their emergency needs. Besides these critical areas, the body could look into the movement of goods between States amidst localised lockdowns and curfews, so that economic losses are contained. The Centre and States should set aside political differences in this hour of crisis (over 20 lakh active cases at present and surging to touch 35 lakh by mid-May) and arrive at decisions on the basis of transparent data-sharing.

Even as the Centre has left it to the States to expand vaccination coverage to the below-45 age group, it should ensure that the 45-plus category is assured supplies on the basis of infection rates, so that vaccination coverage in badly affected States such as Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh (barely 10 per cent or less) is not impacted by non-availability. The move to club States with private players in bidding for the vaccine should be definitely reconsidered. There is no time to be lost in bending the curve.

Published on April 22, 2021

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