Rajat Sharma

Covid pandemic: Imposing a complete lockdown may not be necessary

akbThe entire nation is presently worried over the fast spreading Covid pandemic. The situation is worse compared to last year’s peak. On Thursday, the number of new Covid cases surged to 1,31,968 across India, the highest recorded so far. 780 Covid-related deaths were reported on Thursday, the highest since October 18. The daily surge has been consistent for the last 30 consecutive days. For the last three days, the daily surge in new cases has gone above the 1-lakh level. The number of active Covid-19 cases is ready to touch one million (9,79,608). The recovery rate, according to Health Ministry, has further dropped to 91.22 per cent.

Night curfew has been imposed in more than 100 towns and cities across India. Weekend lockdown will be enforced in all cities of Madhya Pradesh, except Damoh, from Friday evening till Monday dawn. In several cities, the lockdown has been extended till April 18. Hundreds of migrant workers have started leaving for their home states from Mumbai, Pune and Surat, a repeat of last year’s exodus. Many hospitals in Maharashtra and Gujarat have run out of oxygen supply and are in need of more ventilators. Thousands of people have flocked to Delhi hospitals to undergo RT-PCR tests. Because of shortage of beds, two Covid patients are occupying single beds in several hospitals. In Lucknow crematoriums, token are being handed out to relatives for cremation of Covid victims.

All in all, a dismal scenario. The pandemic is spreading at a fast rate. Uttar Pradesh reported 8,490 fresh cases on Thursday, out of which the highest 2,369 is from Lucknow. Prayagraj follows next with 1,040 cases. Delhi recorded 7,417 new cases and 24 Covid-related deaths. Mumbai reported 8.938 new cases and 23 deaths. In Chembur, 24 persons living in a single residential society building were found positive. In Gujarat, 4,021 new cases were reported, while Maharashtra led all other states with 56,286 new cases and 376 deaths on Thursday.

Five states, Chhattisgarh, UP, Gujarat, Rajasthan and MP recorded their highest daily cases till date on Thursday. Addressing chief ministers on Thursday evening, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked them to focus on micro-containment zones to tackle the surge in pandemic. He told them that the present surge was higher than last year’s peak, when there were no vaccines ready and there were no adequate tracking and testing facilities. He urged the states to hike their testing manifold and do not bother about numbers. “Only when you test, will you find a way out of the situation”, he said.

Modi made it clear that a complete lockdown may not be the ideal solution as it was last year, when it was essential to keep people indoors, because there was lack of testing facilities, PPEs and ventilators. He said, the present night curfews being imposed are necessary in order to create awareness among people about the spreading Coronavirus. “You can call it Corona curfew”, he said. He advised chief ministers to organize ‘tika utsavs’ (vaccine festivals) during the birth anniversaries of icons like Jyotiba Phule and Babasaheb Ambedkar.

The Prime Minister defended the vaccine strategy saying that this was in line with global norms. “We cannot store all vaccine stocks (maal) in a single state, we have to think of all states”, he said. He was replying to complaints from several states like Maharashtra and Odisha about shortage of vaccines. On vaccine shortages, Modi said, “those who are in the habit of doing politics, let them do so. I have been facing serious allegations. We can’t stop those who are focused on doing politics. We are committed to serving mankind, and we shall continue doing this”, he said. Modi said, the vaccine strategy was prepared after consultations with all state governments and efforts should be made to ensure complete coverage of all eligible age groups.

On Thursday, Maharashtra health minister Rajesh Tope had alleged that the Centre was discriminating against his state on the issue of supplying vaccines. The largest number of active Covid cases are in my state, and we have been supplied 7 lakh doses, which is insufficient, we need at least 40 lakh doses, he said. Replying to his allegation, Information & Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javdekar said, Maharashtra has been given more than 20 lakh doses and it is up to the state government to ensure that the doses are evenly distributed to the district vaccination centres. Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan tweeted: ‘Let’s put an end to fear mongering now! Covid-19 doses: Total administered: 9 crore plus, In stocks/nearing delivery to states: 4.3 crore plus, Where does question of shortages arise? We are continuously monitoring and enhancing supply.”

Due to night curfew, weekend lockdown, and total restrictions on business in several cities of Maharashtra, including Mumbai, thousands of migrant workers have started leaving for their home states by buses and trains. In my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Thursday night, we showed migrant workers speaking to our reporters at Mumbai’s Lokmanya Tilak Terminus station and at Patna railway station. Most of them said, they had learnt their lessons during last year’s lockdown and do not want to suffer due to lockdown. Hundreds of migrant labourers in Mumbai, Thane, Pune, Ahmedabad and Surat have started leaving for their home states.

Meanwhile, traders have started protests in Nagpur, Mumbai and Thane after lockdown was imposed. One can understand the problems being faced by these traders because they are incurring huge losses due to shutdowns, but the government has no other option. It has to save lives and stop the pandemic from spreading. Hospitals are overcrowded due to surge in the number of patients, there is inadequate supply of oxygen, Remdesivir injections and ventilators, many hospitals have run out of ICU beds.

With death toll rising, crematoriums in Lucknow have started giving out tokens to relatives, who have to wait for 7 to 8 hours to get Covid victims cremated. A large number of doctors in Delhi’s Sir Gangaram Hospital, AIIMS and Lucknow’s King George Medical University have been found positive. Normal elective surgeries have been postponed in AIIMS, Delhi due to the pandemic.

To tackle the rising surge in the second wave of pandemic, more stress is now being laid on vaccination. On an average 36 lakh Covid does are presently being given every day across India. If this rate is sustained, the entire stock of 1.96 crore Covid doses will last five and a half days. There is an additional 2.45 crore doses in the pipeline, enough for another week. If the pace of vaccination is stepped up in the coming days, the stocks are bound to get depleted. According to Health Ministry, fresh vaccine doses are being dispatched in cycles of four to eight days. This is done on the basis of daily discussions with all states on their usage and stock positions, official sources say.

Presently, Andhra Pradesh has vaccine stocks that will last for 1.2 days, but more stocks in the pipeline will help it to carry on vaccination for another 13 days. Stocks in Bihar may last for three days, provided the stocks in pipeline reach in time. Tamil Nadu has 45 days’ stock, because it is vaccinating only 37,000 people daily. 3.9 lakh doses are being administered daily in Maharashtra, which means its remaining stock of 15 lakh doses may last in less than three days.

The demand for more vaccines from states clearly indicates that people, by and large, are no more apprehensive about vaccination. All adults above the age of 45 years must register themselves on CoWin portal and get themselves vaccinated at the earliest. Covid vaccine is a must for protection from death, in case the virus strikes your body. Though there is a daily surge in the number of fresh cases, we should not be despondent. We have the vaccines to counter the attack of Coronavirus, and our doctors and healthcare workers have acquired vast experience by dealing with Covid pandemic for more than a year. Last year, when the pandemic struck India, we did not have sufficient number of PPEs, ventilators, oxygen, sanitizers and testing labs. A complete lockdown was the only solution to gain crucial time for manufacturing these equipment.

Imposing a complete lockdown in India now may not be necessary. We should cast aside our fears and despondency, and avoid negligence at all costs. If the government is slack in dealing with the situation, the administration surely needs to be toned up. More and more people must be tested, to arrest the spread of the virus. We must create awareness among people about the need for isolating those who are infected. We must educate others about the need for wearing masks, maintaining social distance and frequent washing of hands. The present peak in the pandemic rate is bound to slide down in the coming weeks.

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