FPJ Edit: Coronavirus is still here, pair vaccines with masks

The recrudescence of the Covid-19 virus in large parts of the country is a worrying development, underlying its intractable behaviour as also the propensity of people to blatantly abandon basic precautions against getting infected. Despite the on-going vaccination programme which has seen over two crore Indians already getting their first jabs, the virus is far from being defeated.

At the minimum it is required of all Indians to wear masks in public and not to congregate in large numbers at social, religious, political events. Unfortunately, it is easier said than done. The images on the day of the Shivratri mocked all concerns about the prevailing pandemic. Be that as it may, the authorities should enforce restrictions whenever these are warranted to stop further spread of the virus. The week-long lockdown imposed in Nagpur last week followed an alarming rise in infections. Such stringent steps are not ruled out in other parts of Maharashtra, including Mumbai which too has seen a surge in the last few days.

Since the dip beginning this year, there has been a sharp surge in March with the daily cases touching nearly 25,000. Maharashtra alone, with nearly 16,000 cases, is the worst affected once again, though Delhi and a few other states too have recorded a spurt after the drop till end-February. Punjab, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh have reported a sudden spurt.

It is also lamentable that in most states and Union Territories the testing drive has slowed down considerably. The number of tests administered has dropped even in the urban centres. Aside from revealing the depth of the virus in densely-populated clusters the tests help in keeping the people alive to the threat of the virus. In recent weeks, such fears seem to have completely vanished from the popular consciousness. As a result, we notice a reckless disregard of even elementary protections such as the wearing of masks, an effective way to insulate oneself against contracting the infection.

Meanwhile, there is a strong case for allowing fuller participation by the private sector in the inoculation drive. The Central and state governments by themselves cannot meet the requirement to vaccinate the entire population in the next four or five months. Since India is fortunate to have the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer which has the production rights to Covishield, the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 preventive, and the indigenous Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, we should have little problem in speeding up the vaccination drive.

Centralised controls on the vaccine distribution to various states might be in order to regulate short supplies but once the vaccine-makers are induced to increase production and accord priority to India the situation will ease automatically. Admittedly, the uniform price of vaccines reflects the Centre’s desire to prevent profiteering by the private health sector but such a low price can act as a disincentive as well against the much-needed expansion of the vaccination drive. It seems a certain laxity has crept into the Centre’s handling of the pandemic since the launch of the vaccination drive which, given the recent surge in infections, could be counterproductive.

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