Is it right to blame the Centre alone for Covid Second wave?

Published : May 17, 2021 05:05 pm | By: M D Sridharan

As the country is under the clutch of Covid-19, what is driving India’s second wave? The numbers continue to escalate beyond what India had at its peak the first time? Is it right to blame the Centre alone for the second wave? And what’s the way out?

We are in the middle of 2021. It has been almost two years since the outbreak of the Covid 19 Pandemic.  Whole world battled it out in 2021 and India also witnessed several ups and down in 2020. Towards the end of the year cases in India touched 3.00,000 mark.  At a time when it threatened to become an inexorable situation and triggered panic around the country, things begin to change and India managed to keep it under control.  By the start of 2021,   the numbers started to dip gradually. But, in a couple of months the numbers started escalating and the country was caught in the second wave of the pandemic.

Despite warning from several affected countries, especially from the developed countries in the West, that the second and third waves inflicted more pain and agony and it is time that India needs to be careful as it will produce devastating results both on the people and economy of India, the governments both the centre and the states failed miserably. Both governments failed to foresee the second wave and the impact has become severe.

Why did this happen now?  How did the numbers escalate beyond what India had at its peak in the first time, that too when no vaccines where around? While it has been universally acknowledged that lockdown resulted in controlling the spread significantly, has relaxing the same brought a disastrous result? Or  because the elections were conducted in five states despite Covid threats or simply  the governments both the central and the states did not implement stricter vigilance measures and  control  or simply the general public did not comply to the  precautions  seriously ?

The opposition criticise the centre for the poor handling of the situation be it the roll-out of vaccines, the fast-tracking of approvals, procurement and distribution.  Is it true that the central government was completely caught unaware with its lack of planning for not only vaccines but also the more critical oxygen? As a result, the cases spiked and India’s demand and supply of medical oxygen and vaccine production were exposed.  The COVID second wave has exposed India’s overall healthcare system which has started to crack under the huge demand

While the opposition has the right to blame the Centre for its unpreparedness in tackling the second wave, but how many of people heeded the instructions of any government? Even the states were lackadaisical in their approach to monitor and control the pandemic. As soon as daily infections came down, we simply threw the precaution in wind and started celebrating as though absolute normalcy prevailed.

As the pandemic spread like a wild fire, India’s heath infrastructure cracked and panic set in.  The shortfall of beds and medicines added to the agony. The most acute crisis in the country currently is a shortage of oxygen in hospitals. The shortage of   ICU beds, ventilators and medical oxygen has severely affected hospitals across the country.  As the panic stricken relatives of the patients sought help to get oxygen cylinders or hospital beds with oxygen, the social media was flooded with SoS messages.  Even for life saving medicine people had run from pillar to post to save their dear ones. While the doctors across the country are baffled to understand the reasons behind the extraordinary surge, blame game started in the political circle. As human tragedy unfolds, the death rate increased many folds.  The   situation has become worse as people had to fight for even cremation of their kith and kin.

As the daily supply of oxygen is proved to be inadequate for India, A private hospital in New Delhi, approached a Delhi court to inform them about an oxygen shortage at their facility. During the hearing, the government is reported to have told the court that India’s oxygen consumption was over 8000 metric tonnes per day by April 21.5 A lot of the current demand is being met by the private sector including volunteer groups and unfortunately even the black market. The latter is selling oxygen to needy patients at up to ten times it original price.

Even the apex Court pulled up the Centre for its handling of the Covid second wave which has resulted in the national health emergency and urged the government to rehaul the vaccination programme, augment oxygen supply and allow third parties to make patented drugs to boost supply. It said, the government must “do some serious thinking on their policy decisions and revisit them. The Madras High Court also wondered what was the ruling dispensation doing for 14 months and questioned the Central Government over its alleged lapse in taking prompt action in containing the Covid-19 pandemic.

But, the ruling BJP accused the Congress and the opposition parties of spreading misinformation on India’s vaccination programme. Moreover, the centre claimed that health is the state subject and the states have failed the people. Moreover, the  centre points out that  it had organised 28 meeting in the last two months with the heads of the states and more than  75 high level meetings  with bureaucrats  since September,20 20.

Indeed, the centre started the vaccination drive, touted to be the world’s largest, in January 16 with priority given to an estimated three crore healthcare workers and the frontline worker. Initially, it started with frontline workers, and then opened it for 45 plus with co-morbidity. When the drive commenced, though there were little hesitancy from the public, it was smooth during March and April 21. Gradually, the centre planned to immunise 300 million people by June-July (later July-August), But, things did not work as expected. The virus just exploded but the pace of vaccination did not increase several-fold to control the pandemic. The shortages in beds, medicines, vaccines have resulted in the sharp increase of the infection.

 

The centre claims that it had warned the states in March,2021 itself about the possible second wave and advised to ramp up testing across the state. At that time the overall cases were less than 30,000 across the country. While the CMs of five states were busy with elections, others did not pay proper heed.

The centre stated that it had sanctioned funds from PM CARES Fund to Kejriwal Government in December 2020 to set up eight oxygen plants in Delhi. But, since December, only one such plant has been set up by the AAP government. Most of the states did not comply and delayed the project.

As the cases spiked, media went all out in claiming India has the highest number of deaths due to Covid in the world and lambasted Modi government for the miserable failure in handling the second wave.  But, considering the fact that the India has the second largest population in the world, the actual number of people died in Covid is more than the number of people died in entire Europe. But, in terms of deaths per million, India stands far better.

But, today as the cases spiked, accuse the Modi government of not caring the general public and playing politics at the time of pandemic. They pointed out Modi’s political rallies in West Bengal during elections and the  Kumbhmela in Uttar Pradesh that attracted large crowds as the main cause for the surge.  They also completely ignored Rahul Gandhi’s political rallies in Kerala and  Khejriwal’s participation in farmer’s strike. Besides, they absolutely missed the fact that places like Mumbai and Bengaluru where either a big religious festival or political event took place, also become the epic centre of the second wave.

When Modi government launched Vaccination drive, several opposition leaders raised doubts about the efficacy of the vaccines developed in India. Leaders like Akilesh Yadav went the extent of calling it as” BJP vaccine” and doubted its efficacy. They also demanded that Prime Minister Modi should first get vaccinated. But now the same opposition lobby demands vaccine for everyone and blame the centre for the slow production. It is fact that more than the shortage of vaccine, the opposition suppressed the demand and created doubts in the minds of the people.

 

The opposition parties also criticised that the Narendra Modi government has exported over 6.63 crore vaccine doses abroad, at a time when the country needed it most for its own citizens. The centre clarified that over 84 per cent of the vaccine doses sent abroad were part of the commercial and licensing liabilities of the two Indian manufacturers.  1.07 crore vaccine doses sent abroad were India’s aid to different countries and noted that of those, 78.5 lakh were dispatched to seven neighbouring countries. More than two lakh doses were given to the UN peace-keeping force, in which over 6,600 Indian soldiers are deployed.

 Noting that the intellectual property rights over Covishield, manufactured in the country by the Serum Institute of India (SII), are with Astrazeneca, a foreign firm, the centre said the SII was obliged to send a part of the vaccines produced by it abroad. The SII and Bharat Biotech, which manufactures Covaxin, sent vaccine doses abroad also because of the agreement they had signed to procure raw materials for preparing the jabs, the BJP leader added.

On the other hand the Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal demanded that the Centre share the vaccine formula of the two Indian manufacturers with other capable pharmaceutical companies to scale up production in the country. The centre clarified that the SII cannot do it because it has only been given the sub-license by Astrazeneca, which has the intellectual property rights over it. The centre also clarified that the vaccine indigenously prepared by Bharat Biotech requires a high level of bio-safety, which only a few firms are capable of preparing, and the Centre is holding talks with them, including some public sector undertakings (PSUs), to scale up its production.

As the demands by the states increases, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said that such calls arouse "narrow political passion among the masses which harm the whole-of-government approach to tackle the pandemic".  He also informed about the monthly production capacity of the vaccines and reassured the states that vaccines will be distributed equitably. Production capacity is being steadily ramped up and will touch 8 crore doses by May and 9 crore by June, he added.

 

As the state governments   scramble for  both varieties of vaccines, many states have announced the shutting  down of  vaccination centres or ration them,  Besides, several states and Union Territories, including Maharashtra, Delhi, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Odisha, are planning to float global tenders to procure vaccines and ramp up the inoculation drive.

 

Initially based on the data that 88 per cent of the fatalities were in the age group of 45 plus, the centre opened up the vaccination program to that group. Following the adverse situation and increased infection rate, the centre changed its strategy and allowed the states to opt for vaccination of other age groups through direct procurement depending on their own situation. .

 As several states experience a shortage of vaccine doses and even halted the vaccination process, the Centre approved extending the gap between the two doses of the Covishield vaccine from 6-8 weeks to 12-16 weeks following a recommendation from a government panel.  However, the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization are only applicable on Serum Institute of India’s Covishield and not on Covaxin, The centre has also advised all states to stop vaccinating people in the age group of 18-44 and divert all vaccines to cover people above the age of 45, especially those who have received their first dose, but have been unable to get a second dose due to paucity of vaccines.

 

Though opposition parties cry that Modi government is trying to cover up its laxities, truth remains that there is absolute science behind the move it and not politics as it has been proved that the long gap improves the efficacy of the vaccine. Besides, the decision by the centre allows more people to get atleast one shot. It has also been proved worldwide that the single dose prevents spreading of the infection.

But, considering the present condition that the shortage is not going to end up soon, it is a wise move by the centre, though belated. In the past many nations rescheduled its vaccine program, considering India’s size it could not be construed that India lagged behind the vaccine schedule.

The fact remains that nobody saw  the second the second wave coming with such severity and pose such huge challenge to the country’s health care.  Also, no country in the world can handle such large proportions of health care.

A visible plan of action is needed to fight the deadly Covid. It is time to pull up our socks and lend a helping hand burying the political differences...

 

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