It is not clear why the Maharashtra government put off a decision on the next step in the fight to contain the Covid-19 infections till Wednesday, April 14. Normally, emergency situations call for on-the-spot emergency decisions. The fact that the state is yet again in the grip of a severe wave of the virus was clear to everyone early last week. It should have led to an urgent decision whether or not to lockdown completely, partially, or not at all. Or to only lockdown those districts which are particularly badly affected. Anyway, the decision on the lockdown should be taken after a comprehensive consideration of the totality of the situation.
Of course, the first priority has to be necessarily about saving lives --- ‘jaan hai to jahan hai’, as they say. But no less crucial are the livelihood concerns of the people. Balancing the two is always a delicate task but the policy-makers are tasked to frame the guidelines for the next lockdown in such a manner that the economic engine is not completely shut down. For sure, neither the Centre nor the states should inject the virus of partisan politics in the fight against Covid-19. Politicians of all hues owe it to the people to try and cooperate in the fight against this once-a-lifetime pandemic.
Hopefully, it is in this spirit the Uddhav Thackeray government will mull over the report of the Central teams which found rampant deficiencies in the surveillance and enforcement of basic guidelines regarding testing and hospitalisations in several districts of the state. A few other states, according to the Central medical teams which visited the most-affected districts, were found to be lax in following the Covid-19 drill. On Sunday, Mumbai alone recorded 9,986 fresh cases while the country as a whole recorded 1,70,195. The death toll on Sunday alone was 900, highest since October 10.
After a year of the pandemic, it was understandable that a certain sense of complacency would make it challenging for governments to enforce the basic preventive steps. But it was the failure of governments which took their eyes off the deadly virus which alone accounts for the reckless behavior of people one sees in public places, trains, buses, etc. It needs to be constantly dinned into the ears of the public that stirring out of home unless absolutely necessary is to invite the killer infection.
Having said that, the slowdown in the vaccine drive is a matter of concern. Regardless of the inane noises stemming from some Opposition leaders --- one has talked of a complete ban on the export of vaccines ---- the Centre ought to have roped in early a few other pharma companies to manufacture the Covid-19 vaccines on licence from the Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech. Undoubtedly, some half-a-dozen Indian pharma companies are engaged in developing their own vaccines, but given the urgency some of them ought to have been commissioned to produce the SII and BB vaccines in order to augment the supplies.
It is forgotten that the SII vaccine is being produced on licence from a foreign company and the SII has no legal right to divert its production for local use. If the SII did, and did at a rock-bottom price, it did so because, after all, it is an Indian company. Therefore, to blindly chastise this vaccine-manufacturer --- and not developer --- for exporting the vaccines reflects an appalling level of ignorance.
As a member of the WTO, as a nation which constantly craves for a higher foreign direct investment, even an informal ban on the export of the vaccines is a questionable decision, which, as we now know, has resulted in SII defaulting in its legal contractual commitments and thus opening itself to punitive action by the foreign pharma major. Even at this late stage, the government should get the Bharat Biopharma vaccine manufactured on licence by other pharma companies. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister’s call for ‘each one, vaccinate one’ would have sounded far more convincing were there enough vaccines to go around.