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Mr PM: The hour is late, let's get serious

By T N Ninan
April 30, 2021 07:15 IST
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The government has to focus on real solutions, not make a mockery of the crisis through 'vaccine festivals',' asserts T N Ninan.

IMAGE: A COVID-19 patient in an ambulance outside the Lok Nayak Jauaprakash Narayan Hospital in New Delhi. Photograph: Kamal Singh/PTI Photo

At this time last year, the health ministry spokesman was tracking the progress of the 'doubling' rate, the number of days it took for the daily tally of cases to double.

The rate tracked a flattening of the curve of new cases, the peak being just under 100,000 in September before it fell to barely 10,000.

Other countries saw second and third waves of infection, but India shifted into triumphalist mode.

Now consider the present doubling rate: Eight days to double from 20,000 to 40,000, 14 days to re-double to 80,000, and then 10 days to double yet again to 160,000.

A fourth doubling seems on its way.

With hospital beds, ventilators and oxygen already in short supply, the future looks scary.

What if, god forbid, the doubling rate remains broadly unchanged, and we get to something like 600,000 cases daily by mid-May? Apart from setting an ignominious world record, system overload would be guaranteed.


Nothing that the country has faced so far in the history of this terrible pandemic will compare with what it might confront in such a scenario.

Lockdowns will almost certainly become frequent and widespread.

Some lessons learnt from the experience of last year's no-notice lockdown (done nationwide, when relatively few districts had reported Covid cases by then) may help avoid catastrophic outcomes this time round, if governments and employers credibly assure workers of sustenance at their places of work/residence.

Since all employers will not have the capacity to do this, transport must be provided to help those who wish to return home to their villages.

Civil society and volunteers should be encouraged to chip in.

Ideally, this should be done before expanding the lockdowns, but time is short.

Whatever is done now on this front, vaccination will not happen fast enough to stop this second pandemic surge mid-track.

So medicare capacity has to be increased at warp speed.

It has been done before, here and elsewhere; it needs to be done again, raised by an order of magnitude.

The assumption of a smooth economic recovery is now in question as production chains get disrupted again.

Many companies and business sectors already suffer from 'morbidities', and a fresh setback could push many over the brink.

The financial help, credit support and other measures announced last year will have to be repeated if the damage is not to become permanent, and constrain the eventual recovery.

The consumption support that has so far been niggardly will have to be stepped up -- it is not just companies that need help, people do too.

There may be no escape from increasing this year's fiscal deficit, and level of public debt. These will be part of the price for mismanagement of the crisis.

Damage to school education, to literacy and even enrolment, seems inescapable -- as surveys have shown.

But every effort should be made to prevent students from losing an academic year.

Subsequent academic sessions will have to be crunched, and holidays shortened.

On all these fronts, the government has to focus on real solutions, not make a mockery of the crisis through 'vaccine festivals' that produce a drop in the rate of vaccination.

Fudging of fatality numbers by state governments has to stop; the scale of the crisis has to be understood if it is to be properly tackled.

We have seen too many instances of this 'event management' mindset: Banging utensils from balconies, switching off lights and burning candles for nine minutes at 9 pm, showering flower petals on hospitals from hovering helicopters, and so on.

The hour is late, let's get serious.

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T N Ninan
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The War Against Coronavirus

The War Against Coronavirus