FPJ Edit: #CoronaIsNotOver - Failure 
to plan for third wave would be unforgivable

He who fails to prepare actually prepares to fail. This simple message can help us save lives during the third wave of Covid, which has already begun to sting many countries. The Delta variant has caused a worrying spike in the number of infections in countries like the US, Australia, Russia, England, Indonesia, Singapore and some states in India have reported a significant upward swing, as well. The World Health Organisation has cautioned nations against lowering of guard as coronavirus is alive and kicking. Last week, ‘CoronaIsNotOver’ hashtag trended globally, signalling the nagging concern among masses the world over.

While some countries have re-imposed restrictions, the general trend is alarming, as sporting events, markets and tourist destinations have started drawing reckless crowds, wantonly violating corona-appropriate social behaviour. This is inviting trouble, as even those countries which have vaccinated around 80 per cent of their population are reporting an increase in cases. If Australia, which has covered only 18 per cent of its population, is experiencing a significant jump in the number of cases, the US and UK, which have vaccinated over 80 per cent of their adult populations are also witnessing signs of fresh trouble.

Our situation is far more precarious, as we have fully vaccinated only five per cent of our population; by July 11, the total number of doses given in India was 37.73 crore, while we need to give at least 200 crore doses by the year-end. The Narendra Modi government initially promised to give 216 crore doses by year-end but revised the target to 135 crore doses in an affidavit in the Supreme Court. But there are discouraging signs because the vaccination drive is weakening. While the average daily dose hovered around 30 lakhs for a few days, it dipped further last week. What India needs is over 80 lakh doses daily, to achieve the target by year-end. It will be terrible to face the third wave without a significant part of the population being fully vaccinated.

With this kind of unpreparedness on account of vaccination, we need much greater planning to face the third wave. The second wave was disastrous; paralysing the administration and health infrastructure so badly that millions struggled for hospital admission and oxygen. India became the primary concern for the world because of the abnormally large number of deaths and the oxygen crisis exposing the limitations of our healthcare infrastructure.

What is worrying now is the presumption of normalcy. Every market across the country is witness to jostling crowds. Why staggered timings for different goods and services are not being planned to reduce the crowds is unfathomable. The scenes one witnessed from tourist destinations in Himachal Pradesh are frightening. Assembly elections are coming up in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa which is bound to unleash fierce political activity and crowding. It is difficult to guess whether the Election Commission learnt any lessons from the last round of elections in Bengal, where Covid took its toll, apart from Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Assam and Puducherry. Kerala, which managed Covid well initially, is now witnessing fresh trouble along with Maharashtra, which unfortunately tops the chart in the country in terms of infections.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah led the political parties in organising massive crowds in Bengal at the peak of the second wave, showing ‘withdrawal symptoms’ only in the last leg of polling. Eight phases of polling in Bengal have raised questions about the Election Commission’s foresight and the key state of Uttar Pradesh will now be another test case for both the commission and the parties. The state has already suffered disastrous consequences because of local bodies’ elections; over 1,600 teachers deployed on election duty lost their lives to Covid. Democracy requires political parties to campaign and communicate with people but this can be done without throwing caution to the winds.

While the commission can dream up innovative measures to ensure parties adhere to Covid-appropriate behaviour, leaders too need to be mindful of the repercussions, instead of encouraging people to violate norms. The first wave hit hard because of the inexperience in handling pandemic of this nature and the second wave played havoc because of callous unpreparedness. If the third wave too inflicts similar miseries upon the people, nothing except the inability to plan, and failure to learn lessons from experience, can be blamed. That, doubtless, will be an unforgivable lapse. Hope the system will be better prepared this time and India will redeem its pride by showing to the world it can rise to the occasion despite limited resources.

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Free Press Journal