Covid’s not over yet

Updated on: Nov 15, 2021
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Throwing open doors to international tourists even as Europe is Covid-hit seems adventurous

Following the retreat of the second wave, India has been doing rather well on the Covid front. The daily case count now is down to just over 10,200, the lowest since February 2021. Daily Covid deaths, at 125, are at March levels. But what is also evident is that Covid protocols such as masking and social distancing have been cast aside. Crowds throng markets and big ticket weddings are returning — the general feeling once again setting in, as in October-November last year, that Covid is a thing of the past. To be sure, India has rapidly ramped up its vaccination drive after the second wave, having now covered 80 per cent of its eligible population of about 940 million with the first dose and 38 per cent with the second. That protects a good number from a life-threatening episode of Covid, even if there is a rise in cases. However, it must be borne in mind that the 30 million frontline workers, many of whom were the first to be vaccinated, that is before March this year, are likely to see their protection levels waning. Another disquieting feature is that the daily vaccination rate has dropped to just over three million now, from six million in October, not least due to complacency setting in and a dip in turnout at vaccine centres, particularly for the second dose. It has not helped that governments, the Centre and States, have virtually stopped enforcing Covid protocols.

With hesitancy and indifference keeping daily vaccination rates low, it may not be a bad idea to consider boosters for frontline workers — while simultaneously pursuing the second dose target. India’s monthly supplies of over 250 million doses can easily cover the existing demand, including the rising need for boosters, and also meet its export needs. With Zydus, Biological E and Novavax likely to join the output stream soon, a supply crunch in vaccines can be ruled out.

But the challenge lies in shaking people out of a false sense of security. The Centre could have done better than throw open visas to foreign tourists from 99 countries. Its announcement on Monday says that double vaccination is the only requirement, with no need for quarantine. Meanwhile, Covid cases are surging in Europe. About two million cases were reported from Europe over one week. A weekly death toll of about 27,000 now accounts for more than half the global Covid-19 deaths. The virus rages in Eastern Europe where vaccination rates are comparable to India’s, and even in Austria, Germany and France where 65-70 per cent of the population is fully jabbed. The WHO attributes this spurt to vaccine hesitancy, with the unvaccinated leading the numbers of infected. However, the vaccinated too have succumbed by throwing caution to the winds. The Centre could have waited for this surge to ebb before throwing open its airports. Since a vaccinated tourist can be a carrier, she should be made to quarantine for a few days. It should be kept in mind that the economic consequences of another wave will wipe out the gains to be had by inviting foreign tourists.

Published on November 15, 2021

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