Maharashtra’s dilemma is acute. One can appreciate the need to prioritise concerns about daily bread and butter as well, while fighting the seemingly unending menace of the coronavirus. Shutting down the state, yet again, after all, is not an option. But reinforcing some basic precautions and selective restrictions on public movement and the opening of establishments, particularly cinemas, eateries, public parks and shopping malls, etc., may be a sensible idea to contain the spread of Covid-19. Some argue that it was the premature resumption of the local trains in Mumbai, but no evidence has been forthcoming, to link it to the second surge.
Though the fresh spurt in Maharashtra is particularly bad, a number of other states too seem to be in the equally harsh grip of the virus. On Saturday, it was reported that the country had recorded 89,019 fresh cases in a span of mere 24 hours, the highest in six months. The death toll for the same 24 hours was 713, the highest since December 3. The total number of fatalities from the virus stood at a whopping 1,64,141.
Yet, compared to the much smaller nations in Europe and North America, India has managed to keep both the total number of infections and fatalities under check. Whether it was the initial nation-wide lockdown, enforced at a mere four-hour notice, or the natural immunity our people enjoy due to an early exposure to contaminations of various kind in our food, water and air we breathe right from a very young age, is hard to tell. But the fact is that we, along with Pakistan and even Bangladesh, seem to be coping with the pandemic better than the Americans and the Europeans.
To give credit where it is due, it too has to be conceded that we seem to be managing our vaccination programme rather well. On April 1, those aged 45-plus became eligible to get the jabs and one could see people lining up in orderly queues at public and private hospitals to receive their inoculations. The system has been so devised that one could walk in without prior registration and yet receive the vaccine dose.
According to reports, last Friday, the number of people who received the first jabs without prior registration was four times higher than those who had registered for them in advance. Again, nearly 37 lakh Covid-19 vaccine doses were administered on Friday, and of these, over 33 lakh were the first jabs while the rest were the second, follow-up jabs. Even then the pace of vaccinations needs to pick up further if we have to immunise at least 30 crore people before we can talk of herd immunity.
The Central government has yet again stressed the need for the states to enforce strict preventive measures such as a ban on public functions, social distancing, wearing of masks and more RT-PCR tests. A worrying aspect of the second surge is that this time Tier 2 and 3 cities seem to have been hit by the virus, increasing fears that these in turn might cause the spread to rural communities.
As Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said last week, one cannot assume that the virus is gone from our midst until it is ‘really’ gone. For that to happen, every Indian needs to take minimal precautions, which, alas, is not the case as one sees even in big cities such as Delhi and Mumbai. Without cooperation of citizens, no government can achieve anything, least of all neutralise a rampaging public health crisis which has devastated far more developed countries than India.