The Union government must revisit the Covid protocols and prod state governments to decide what is to be introduced now
Covid-19 is back in the news not just as a regular rejoinder but as a potential disruptor. India has consistently recorded four-figure new infections for the last two weeks and the number which crossed 1,000 on March 23 increased three times in a week. More importantly, deaths have also been reported sporadically from the states, and the toll, though small, is going up.
In theory, the government has kept stressing the fact that the coronavirus has not gone anywhere and that it is important that Covid protocols be followed. But most government agencies, and people, have stopped bothering about the microorganism. The government must now take its own warnings seriously.
It was on March 31 last year that the Union home ministry ended all Covid-related restrictions which were in place in various degrees since March 24, 2022. A year later, state governments have now started reintroducing them, albeit in a limited manner. The Kerala and Tamil Nadu governments have made wearing of masks compulsory in hospitals. The district administration in Satara in Maharashtra has made masks compulsory for staff in government and semi-government offices, colleges and banks.
The Union government must revisit the Covid protocols and prod state governments to decide what is to be introduced now. Wearing masks is one of the primary options. It must be made compulsory not just in government officers and hospitals but in all crowded places. Train and air passengers and shoppers in malls who move in crowds also must be made to wear masks. Organisers of all gatherings; be it social, political or religious, must also be advised to follow Covid protocols.
Several waves of the pandemic and different variants of the virus that have visited humanity in the last three years have given us the opportunity not only to develop vaccines against them but also to prepare treatment protocols and identify holes in the healthcare infrastructure. For example, lack of basics such as hospital beds, medicines and ICUs were an issue in one wave while lack of oxygen manufacturing facilities and issues with its supply chain mechanism came out in another. The Union government has already sent advisories to the states to ensure that such shortcomings are rectified in a proactive way.
Vaccination against Covid ceased to be a public programme long back. Experts opine that vaccines need not necessarily stop a person from contracting the disease but would considerably lessen its impact on people, especially those with co-morbidities. The government should seriously reconsider launching a vaccination programme prioritising people who are vulnerable — aged and those with compromised immunity.
It is a fact that advisories and notes from the Union government alone will not work as finances of most states are in a bad shape. The Union government, and the PM-Cares Fund, should design ways to fund the healthcare needs of the states. Given that the pandemic had hit the poorest sections of society the hardest, the government must earmark other resources — administrative and human — too — to pre-empt the return of the virus that has proven dangerous for lives and livelihoods.