The second --- or is it the third? --- surge of the Covid-19 pandemic in Maharashtra could well be traced to the reopening of the economy. After a three-month hiatus, a record number of new cases of infection are being reported from the state. In the last week, the total cases recorded were 21,356, the highest since the week ending January 17. Maharashtra has now left Kerala behind in the number of new infections. On Sunday alone, there were 4,092 new cases, the highest single-day number since January 6. The total caseload of Maharashtra now stands at 20,67,643, with 51,552 fatalities.
Whether the latest spurt is due to the resumption of near-normalcy or otherwise is hard to tell, but in the absence of any other explanation, it is natural to link the surge to the relaxation of the anti-Covid-19 norms and stipulations. More and more people are seen on the road and in public transport. The wearing of masks is random, if at all; social distancing is mostly observed in its breach, especially on the local trains which resumed service from February 1.
Reopening of public eating places too might have played a role in reviving the virus. Meanwhile, the vaccination programme in the state was hit by glitches, with only a quarter of those eligible to take the second jab able to take it and several others listed to be vaccinated for the first time going back without receiving it on Monday. The problem was ascribed to a computer glitch.
The nation-wide vaccination drive too seems to have been marred by shortages of the vaccines, though Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan reassured that soon regular supplies of the vaccines would resume and a regulated programme to give the first jabs to the 50-plus population would be duly rolled out.
Till the last weekend, over 80 lakh Indians had been given their first jabs and were now expected to take the second soon. The priority in the first round was rightly given to healthcare workers and those in the frontline of the anti-Covid-19 drive. The second dose being mandatory, health authorities closely monitor the programme for the post-jab response and corrective action, if required.
Thus far, barring stray cases of unusual reaction from a few recipients of the first jab, the vaccination drive seems to have proceeded on the expected lines. Though Vardhan has ruled out the availability of the vaccine in the open market anytime soon, he was nonetheless confident that with 18-19 vaccine candidates under development, there should soon be no shortages for the authorities to administer the jab to enough Indians, in order to induce herd immunity.
However, the immediate challenge is to tackle the renewed surge in Maharashtra and Kerala. Whether the two worst-hit states should re-impose the restrictions of the early days of the pandemic to stop the surge needs to be seriously examined. Nothing could be more precious than human life itself .