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Pandemic - The Killer Curve - India runs out of Oxygen & 'Carbon' too!

TIOL - COB( WEB) - 760
APRIL 22, 2021

By Shailendra Kumar, Founder Editor

ONLY a couple of months back the wings of the pandemic appeared grimly clipped in India. But how a situation can go completely out of hand is another extreme we find ourselves deeply drenched in! The daily surge in fresh caseloads has assumed apocalyptic proportions. More than three lakh cases with over 2000 fresh deaths! This is when a large number of cases are going unreported and the count of death is happily undercounted! The rising killer curve of infections in rural India appears to be being ignored, perhaps deliberately! The Indian health system in which huge funds were pumped in only a few months back, have virtually collapsed! It has literally run out of oxygen! People are simply dying in the lap of frontline warriors! Worse, for the dead, the crematoriums have also run out of 'carbon' - no logs available to burn the bodies! In a nutshell, ruhaniyat (soulfulness) of the Indian care system has glaringly been missing!

A strange paucity of oxygen and carbon have left the space to be occupied by the theories of Great Charles Darwin - Only the fittest may survive this phase of the pandemic! Dubbing the extant conditions as 'almost war-like', Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut has called for special session of Parliament! He says no beds, no oxygen and no vaccine as well! Total chaos! He has called for at least two days' session of Parliament to discuss the pandemic devastating the country!

It is certainly not the case that the Central Government or the States were not expecting the second wave which had resulted in deaths at catastrophic scale in many parts of the world (14000 fresh deaths counted with close to nine lakh cases in last 24 hours on global scale). India had simply dropped all its guards, not only to revive the economy but also to conduct state elections and some mega religious jamborees! The political leadership at the Centre as well as the States preferred to make electoral fortune, leaving no part of mind space for public health safety! All the gung-ho generated during the first phase of lockdown to save lives of common citizens quietly vanished in the smoky air! The Central Government increasingly transferred the burden of pandemic management to the States and just focussed on vaccination - one of its poll promises made in the past. Having donated an eye-watering quantity of doses as part of the vaccine diplomacy to over 80 countries, it rolled out jabbing with limited stock at a glacial pace. Soon, many States reported precarious depletion of their stocks particularly against their campaigns launched in response to the rising tidal wave of fresh infections.

As soon as the States which were caught in the whirlwind of rising infections reported burgeoning infections among the younger age groups of the population, the Centre pounced on the opportunity to throw the window open for above 18 from May 1 but also asked the States to unilaterally negotiate the price of vaccine with manufacturers and source them directly. This was probably done to seal the canister of vaccine controversies and also to save on Central Government resources. What appears to have irked the States is the fact that even as the Centre has been purchasing the vaccines for Rs 150 apiece but the States are expected to cough up Rs 400 apiece and Rs 600 apiece in the open market. Ideally, the Centre should have negotiated uniform price for all the States and also put in place measures to prevent black-marketing of vaccines in the open market. The fact that both the key vaccine manufacturers have also inked international contracts and they would have to meet such obligations, it is less speculative that the supply would remain short for several months to come.

Let me now go back to the raging debate on whether States should go for lockdown to break the chain of transmission and minimise the rising toll of death? Though many health experts are not in favour of lockdown on economic ground but one fact which scientifically stands established and cannot be denied is that if the combustible transmission is not defused, the coronavirus clan has the intrinsic ability to mutate rapidly and each mutant emerges on the horizon with its own potency to kill and transmit. In this backdrop, the governments have limited choice not to do so. However, some of them are experimenting with the weekend model to succeed in breaking the chain. So much faith the UP Government has got in this model that it questioned the wisdom of the Allahabad HC which asked it to order lockdown in five biggest cities of the State and the Apex Court finally sided with it. Delhi also started with the weekend model but when it did not work, it has gone for a week-long shutdown. Mumbai also seems to have given up and may soon go for complete lockdown.

Even as most States continue to toy with the idea of partial vs complete lockdown, FICCI has written to all the States not to go for lockdown at all! In fact, its president has gone to the extent of urging States not to go for even partial lockdown as it may trigger downward spiral for the economy! Though FICCI may be right in its assessment from a business perspective but going by the rising death toll in the country, making such an appeal tends to thieve the premium a human life is expected to carry in every civilised society. No chamber of business should cheapen the loss of life and attach premium to economic gains above it! It is true that the pandemic-battered economy would undergo another round of upending but at the moment, human lives ought to be saved at all costs! It is equally bitter that millions of migrant labourers would suffer another round of uprooting and economic destitution but saving life has to be non-negotiable tentacle of State obligations towards its citizens!

One of the critical inputs for saving lives is the availability of oxygen cylinders. Many States have pilloried the Central leadership of playing favouritism over supply of the same. Delhi Chief Minister has regularly been crying hoarse over missing supplies. Rajasthan has accused the Centre of discrimination, claiming while 1200 metric tonne oxygen was being supplied to Gujarat, it has got only 124 metric tonne. Unlike the first phase, the Centre has taken over all medical oxygen generator plants and distribution network. Though the Indian Railways has introduced special trains to supply oxygen cylinders but given the acute pressure on hospitals and a large number of COVID patients being put on ventilators, the present quantity of supply has turned woefully inadequate. Similarly, some of the critical medicines and injections like Remdesivir have also run out of stocks. The second phase of the pandemic would clearly go down in history as one of the infamously ill-managed health challenges triggering visceral fear across the nation! Po-faced family members of COVID patients do hope that all the three pillars of democracy would soon work in unison and take meaty measures to bring the country back on rail! I sincerely hope that the present hiccups would soon be a thing of the past!

Aslo See : Pandemic turns into 'Kalashnikov' - A Pogrom against the Poor!

Vaccination before New Variants turn radioactive! - India does well - EU turns dawdler!

'Pole Dance' by Corona Clan - Human Life sandwiched between 'Holocaust' & 'Holocough'!

Pandemic again tightening ironclad embrace - Revenue back to dancing on greasy pole!

COVID-19 - Anti-vaxxers having 'quarantini' time at cost of Public Health!