The grim reality is that we don’t know when we will be rid of the virus. The known unknowns and unknown unknowns are too many for any government to be able to say with a degree of certainty when the current surge in infections will relent. This time the cases are doubling at a much faster rate than even a year ago.
And this when we were persuaded that the coronavirus had finally receded from the land and we could go back to our pre-Covid-19 normal. Chief ministers were triumphantly declaring how many thousand hospital beds and ventilators were readied and were lying empty. Now the situation is so horrifying that in spite of ministerial interventions not a bed is available in a private or a public hospital even on payment of higher amounts than a king’s ransom in any urban centre, including, nay particularly in the national capital.
Every state government is guilty of fudging the numbers of new infections and those dead from it. Medicines rumoured to be helpful in treating the virus have disappeared from the chemist shops. There is a huge shortage of oxygen cylinders with people paying ten to twenty times the market price for each cylinder in the black market. Reports of health workers themselves making a fast buck, dispensing medicines such as Remdesivir injections at twenty to thirty times the listed price are all over social media. Even those ready to shell out hefty amounts for coronavirus tests in private pathological labs have had to run from pillar to post to get one.
Networking and connections are needed to persuade even fly-by-night labs which have overnight sprouted in urban centres to take advantage of the pandemic and the resulting scare among people to reassure themselves that they have not contracted the virus. No better is the condition of our funeral homes. Long queues of ambulances bearing the corona dead can be seen outside the cremation grounds in all major urban centres. The health infrastructure having collapsed under the relentless pressure of Covid patients, resulting in a large number of deaths, the pandemic also spotlights our failure to provide a dignified funeral for its victims.
On every front in the pandemic-related situation the country has faltered, nay failed itself. And when we say this we include all of us ordinary citizens. We are no less guilty. If politicians are so insensitive that they will not stop religious congregations in Haridwar or the Friday prayers at the Ajmer Sharif or the election rallies in the poll-bound states what prevents the people themselves from avoiding them, to give these a miss?
If the state and Central governments were wrong in green-signalling this year’s Kumbh Mela or Bada or Chhota Snan, why couldn’t the people themselves keep away from this ritual and not become super-spreaders of the virus? As long as we have politicians like Uttarakhand Chief Minister Tirth Singh Rawat, who glibly commends the crowds in Haridwar, saying a dip in Ma Ganges insulates them against the infection, we will have tens of thousands Naga Sadhus without masks and packed like sardines in a small area and become super spreaders when they return to their homes. Truly, we are on Ram Bharose, er… sorry… Ma Ganga Bharose.
Meanwhile, we can only hope that the restrictions on sourcing vaccines from multiple makers will soon be lifted. Without providing financial incentives even the two existing manufacturers may not want to step up production. The government has squeezed both the vaccine-makers and private hospitals administering them so badly that neither has reason to increase the numbers. Meanwhile, it is reasonable to be concerned about the economy. Even before it could get back to normal it is spluttering again.
If the current half-open, half-closed state does not end soon, or, worse, further a spread of the virus leads to tougher lockdowns, we can forget about economic revival. The one thing that is still in the hands of the government is that it can vastly increase the number of daily vaccinations. At least on this front, all barriers in the way of official domestic and import permissions ought to be removed forthwith. While local manufacturing should be increased manifold in all available facilities, imports of those already approved in foreign countries should be made with supersonic speed and in large numbers. India is in extreme distress. To rescue it the first thing we need is for the rulers to transform themselves into administrators. The well-being of 135 crore people is at stake, for God’s sake.