Exactly a year after India imposed the world’s strictest lockdown to contain Covid-19, the second wave of the pandemic is rapidly spreading across the country and proving to be much more vicious than the first. The daily caseload has reached around 48,000, the highest in the past four months even as fresh infections have been rising at a faster rate than the recoveries. While the Centre’s revised guideline allowing people over 45 years to get vaccinated is a welcome move, it needs to go beyond that. It is now critical to extend the vaccination programme beyond the limit of 45 years to include the entire working age group of 25-60 years so that they can keep contributing to the economic recovery without the fear of contracting the disease. This brooks no delay, given the alarming surge in the number of cases. The age group relaxation will help bolster private facilities reporting low offtake of vaccines. The centralised rationing of vaccines is turning out to be another big hindrance to the ambitious inoculation drive. The sooner the Centre realises the folly of its top-down approach and ‘one-size-fits-all’ model, the better it would be for the country in terms of expanding the vaccination coverage. The State governments and private hospitals must be given more flexibility and freedom to source vaccines directly and fine-tune inoculation strategies to tackle localised infection surges.
Ramping up production and supply of vaccines, increasing the number of vaccination centres and strict enforcement of Covid-19 protocol—wearing masks, maintaining physical distance and hand hygiene — are the only ways to tame the virus. Imposing another lockdown is no solution. The nationwide lockdown from March-end to May-end last year had impacted millions, depriving them of their source of livelihood. The economy, which had slipped into recession, is still struggling to regain the pre-pandemic growth rate. Over the last few months, there has been a tendency among people to ignore the basic drill under the mistaken impression that the pandemic had fizzled out. The local governments must strictly enforce the protocol. Social, religious and political congregations must be avoided because they turn out to be super-spreaders of the virus, jeopardising the country’s fight against the pandemic. Given the sharp rise in infections, the Centre should now recalibrate its vaccine diplomacy because meeting the domestic requirement is the top priority. The Centre’s decision to temporarily suspend exports of Covishield, being manufactured by Serum Institute of India, is the right move in this direction. India’s current requirements are being met by only two approved vaccines — Covishield and Covaxin. Keeping in view the huge demand, the vaccines developed abroad can be granted emergency use authorisation to help find local manufacturing partners.
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