Covid Round 2

| Updated on April 06, 2021

Vaccination is the key even as we return to masks and social distancing

The second pandemic wave long feared by experts now is upon us and from the way that numbers are soaring, it could be even more widespread than the first. What’s more, this time infections are spreading beyond India’s dense megalopolises to smaller cities and towns where medical facilities are poorer, fuelling problems. In Maharashtra, for instance, Akola, Nanded, Jalgaon and Aurangabad are amongst India’s 10 worst-hit districts. Similarly, in Punjab, where 81 per cent of infections involve the fast-spreading UK variant, low-populated Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar, has many cases. Daily deaths also have surged 4.5 times from 96 on March 8 to 425 on April 4, calculated on a seven-day average.

What’s the way forward? For a start, we have to resume rigorous social distancing. Mask-wearing has to be a must. While this may sound elementary, after an exhaustingly ultra-careful year, we’ve let the mask slip, so to speak. Affluent youngsters have been enjoying the nightlife and that’s why night curfews have been imposed in Delhi and Mumbai. In Mumbai, where suburban trains have been as jampacked, as during pre-pandemic times, government servants and non-essential employees have been ordered to work from home wherever possible. These are essential steps to control numbers and avoid patients overwhelming the hospital system. We need beds in general wards and crucially, ICU beds with oxygen facilities.

The current wave, so far, is confined to a handful of States and over half the infections are in Maharashtra. We should consider temporarily shifting medical staff from less hard-hit states to more seriously affected ones to help them cope. More testing so we can trace, isolate and treat, is, obviously, a given. Crucially, vaccinations need to be stepped up. For several days last week, we were administering over 3 million vaccinations, as many as in the US which is in high vaccination gear. Last Thursday, 3.6 million doses were given. Over 80 million Indians have received at least one jab. That’s just a fraction of our vast population. But as the experience in smaller countries like Israel suggests, immunising 25 per cent of the population can cut transmission rates. In India’s case, that would involve vaccinating 350 million. Researchers behind the AstraZeneca vaccine suggest a first shot lowers transmission by two-thirds and also reduces illness severity if vaccinated people still get infected. We’ve already vaccinated over one-fifth of that 350 million. If we ramp up daily vaccinations to 5 million, we could hit the magical 25 per cent mark in around two months. What’s needed is to expand delivery centres and vaccine supply. That might mean greenlighting manufacturers like Johnson & Johnson and Russia’s Sputnik V. J&J’s vaccine has the advantage of being single-dose while Sputnik V doesn’t need complex refrigeration. We may be social distancing at least until 2022 but Covid risks fall with each jab. It’s time to utilise every resource to reduce the infection to a manageable level.

Published on April 06, 2021

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