Beware the second wave

| Updated on February 17, 2021 Published on February 17, 2021

The vaccination rollout has to be accelerated and controls tightened at ports of entry

India needs to further tighten its act on Covid management. Close to 200 cases have been reported of the UK strain, while the South African and Brazilian variants have also begun to show up. Meanwhile, Maharashtra has reported an increase in cases in recent days, with the daily count at 3,600 cases against about 2,500 in the last week of January. In Kerala, Covid still rages with close to 5,000 cases being recorded daily. The two States account for 75 per cent of daily new infections, even as the curve has been flattened elsewhere. To contain the spread to other States, an RT-PCR negative report for those crossing borders of these States should be insisted upon along with home quarantine for a week. It would be a pity if months of collective restraint and state-induced discipline were to be negated by avoidable complacency.

The staggered unlocking has lifted the economy out of the doldrums, but precautions such as wearing masks and observing social distancing have been set aside. Social gatherings have picked up all over again with many States having dispensed with the limit on numbers. Domestic flight operations are on almost in full swing. Economic activity was encouraged in the hope that vaccinations will contain the spread of the pandemic. But the vaccination programme is not progressing at the anticipated pace. It should be ensured that the infection spread does not outpace the vaccination programme. In this context, the entry of new Covid variants into India from abroad is worrying. All foreign arrivals, and not just those arriving from the UK, South Africa and Brazil, should be tested at the airport. An RT-PCR report at the point of boarding is not good enough. The blanket exemption on testing for senior citizens should be done away with, and restricted to those seriously ill. There should be consistency in the implementation of the rules across ports of entry. The spread of Covid in India began with international arrivals acting as the super-spreader. As a result of the initial laxity at the point of entry, the general population bore the brunt, in health and economic terms. This mistake should not be repeated.

India has vaccinated about 8.5 million in the first month of the programme. At current pace, it is nowhere near vaccinating the remaining 240 million people by July, that too in two doses. One of the reasons for the slow spread is the vaccine-hesitancy among health workers. The Centre should consider releasing stocks, which have a limited shelf-life, for the general population through a network of empanelled hospitals. This can be an interim measure until the Covishield vaccine becomes available in the market in a couple of months. Vaccine demand will improve when the people feel assured of its safety. The Centre must build confidence in this area, while enforcing the necessary protocols in coordination with the States.

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Published on February 17, 2021
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