Rajat Sharma

Covid Pandemic: Speed up vaccination

The spread of the pandemic clearly indicates that states in southern, western and northern regions are facing the full brunt of the second wave. By Thursday night, 16.48 crore Indians were administered Covid vaccine doses, but this cumulative total is very small compared to India’s population.

AKBThe pandemic surge continues. The number of daily fresh Covid-19 cases in India touched another peak with over 4.14 lakh cases reported on Thursday, while the number of Covid-related deaths during the last 24 hours almost touched four thousand (3,927). For the last 10 days, the daily number of deaths has been consistently high at over three thousand. An average of 150 Indians are dying every hour due to Covid-19. According to WHO weekly estimate, 46 per cent of daily fresh cases are from India, while more than 25 per cent of Covid-related deaths are also from India.

Maharashtra continues to lead the state tally with 62,194 new cases and 853 deaths. Karnataka is second with 49,058 new cases and 328 deaths, Kerala 42,464 new cases and 63 deaths, Uttar Pradesh 26,780 new cases and 353 deaths, Tamil Nadu 24,898 new cases and 195 deaths, Andhra Pradesh 21,954 new cases and 72 deaths, Rajasthan 17,532 cases and 161 deaths, Chhattisgarh 13,846 new cases and 212 deaths, Gujarat 12,545 new cases and 123 deaths, Madhya Pradesh 12,421 new cases and 86 deaths, Punjab 8,874 cases and 154 deaths and Uttarakhand 8,517 new cases and 151 deaths.

The spread of the pandemic clearly indicates that states in southern, western and northern regions are facing the full brunt of the second wave. By Thursday night, 16.48 crore Indians were administered Covid vaccine doses, but this cumulative total is very small compared to India’s population. Much remains to be done. A massive vaccination drive needs to be launched, backed by adequate stocks of vaccine doses.

The good news is that components to produce 20 million Covishield doses have arrived from USA. The US, European Union, Canada and New Zealand have said they are ready to discuss waiver of intellectual property rights on vaccines, but Germany, UK, Japan and Switzerland have opposed. If the IPR on patented vaccines is waived, it will help India and other developing countries to boost manufacture of patented vaccines like Pfizer, Moderna and Novovax.

Meanwhile, the oxygen supply in Delhi-NCR region appears to be better, though it is unpredictable. Tamil Nadu government has told the Madras High Court that it has only one day’s oxygen stock left for hospitals. Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal has thanked the Prime Minister, Supreme Court and Delhi High Court after the city government received 730 metric tonnes of oxygen on Thursday.

In spite of increase in oxygen supply, rampant blackmarketing, hoarding and profiteering in oxygen cylinders, concentrators and vital medicines continue in Delhi and some neighbouring states. In my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Thursday night, we showed how old and used fire extinguishers, normally red in colour, are being painted black, the old fire extinguisher nozzles being removed and oxygen nozzles fitted, filled with oxygen and then being sold to unsuspecting relatives of Covid patients as oxygen cylinders in Shahdara, Delhi. Delhi Police arrested three persons and seized 532 fire extinguishers which had been kept in the factory for being repainted as oxygen cylinders. 72 fake oxygen cylinders were also seized. Think about the magnitude of this racket. These fake oxygen cylinders were being sold at Rs 15,000 to Rs 17,000 each.

There are potential risks of blasts from fake oxygen cylinders, because genuine oxygen cylinders are completely different from fire extinguishers. The gang members who were nabbed by police had been procuring these old extinguishers from scrap dealers. These fire extinguishers are not cleaned, there could be dust and iron particles inside, and if oxygen is filled and given to a patient, there are risks of the patient choking to death. These extinguishers have a certain level of air pressure, and if more oxygen is filled, it can cause a blast. I would appeal to relatives of Covid patients to be on alert and inform police if unscrupulous traders try to sell fire extinguishers as oxygen cylinders.

In a Lodhi Colony restaurant, Delhi Police busted a profiteering racket. This gang was importing Chinese oxygen concentrators at Rs 20-25,000 each, and then selling them online for Rs 60-70,000 each. During the raid, 32 boxes containing 419 oxygen concentrators of 5 litre and 9 litre capacities, a box of thermal scanners and several boxes containing N95 masks were seized and four persons were arrested.

Drug Controller department staff in Gurugram arrested three persons with 260 oxygen cylinders, which had been brought in a truck from Mumbai. They were selling cylinders worth Rs 12,000 at Rs 34,000 each near a village community centre in Badshahpur. By the time the raid was conducted, the black marketers had already sold 250 oxygen cylinders within a matter of two hours.

On Wednesday night, I had shown in ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ how cotton swabs used for RT-PCR tests were being made in hygienic conditions in a slum in Ulhasnagar near Mumbai. On further investigation, it appeared that this racket was going on since May last year, when the first wave of pandemic was at its peak. After India TV’s investigation was telecast, RT-PCR tests at centres where these cotton swabs were supplied, have been stopped. Seven teams of Ulhasnagar police, six teams of Ulhasnagar municipality and four FDA teams carried out searches in the entire locality. A large number of stocks was seized, but the outsourcing contractor Mahesh Keswani alias Rubberwala is absconding. Police raided his office, home and godowns in search of more stocks.

An inquiry committee has been set up by the local municipality to probe this racket. I expect the local police to nab the contractor Mahesh Keswani at the earliest, because he is the main culprit. He may reveal to police where the stocks of RT-PCR cotton swab packs were sent. I understand the plight of poor people who toiled in their homes to make these cotton swabs. They were being paid a measly Rs 2 for making 100 cotton swabs. Nobody can expect these poor labourers to purchase gloves and sanitize their surroundings while making cotton swabs. The sooner the contractor is nabbed, the better. Such a trader must be given exemplary punishment so that others may not dare to do such an act in future.

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