Ground reality belies Centre’s tall talk about gearing up to tackle impending third wave of COVID
Centre seems to be more interested in blaming the states rather than cooperating with them in right earnest, and has failed even to disburse them funds earmarked in Budget to deal with pandemic
We have been relieved a little after the predicted third wave of COVID-19 did not strike in mid-August. However, the delay doesn’t mean it has been averted. The risk is still there with further opening up of several activities and people are seen not following the Covid-appropriate behaviour while R-factor is still high.
The dreaded Delta variant remains dominant, and we have still about 40 crore vulnerable people devoid of immunity, either because they are still unvaccinated or have not recovered from previous infection. No new variant has yet been found, but the Delta and Delta+ variants pose a huge threat.
Though India seems to better prepared to face the challenges of a third wave, we have miles to go in terms of creating medical infrastructure, providing training to more persons for medical care, and achieving vaccination for all, apart from proper coordination between the Centre and states along with other stakeholders to prepare the country for a united fight against the impending danger.
In theory, essential planning and preparations are being taken by the Centre and states which involve expanding testing, contact tracing, and boosting other medical resources. The focus in on expanding hospital facilities, smaller treatment centres, and more effective containment strategy. Specific instruction and guidelines are being issued by the Centre to states, and from state level officials to the district and local levels.
Officials are being asked to visit all COVID-19 treatment facilities which were constructed since the outbreak of the pandemic. They have been asked to update the list of treatment facilities and related details and to document staffing and service requirements.
As per the information available, more testing kits, both RT-PCR as well as Rapid Antigen, are required in every corner of the country. Officials were asked to ensure the supply of the same in requisite number. Contact tracing is advised to be carried out to avoid spread of the virus.
However, there is a lapse in that not all the contacts are being traced. For example, in Mumbai, contact tracing of only 15 persons was being done for each patients, though it has now been increased to 20. It would have been better to trace all persons who have been in contact with the patient or their family members.
More effective and consistent follow up has been mandated of patients and suspects in containment zones. Control rooms are being strengthened. Given the likelihood of children getting infected, special childcare facilities are also been created. Compliance mechanisms are also being strengthened so as to compel people in the infected areas to follow masking, keeping appropriate distance follow and hand hygiene measures.
However, when we come to the specifics, the situation at ground level is far from satisfactory. Availability of financial resources, medical facilities, vaccines, drugs, oxygen etc all need to be increased immediately, and the procurement and supply chain strengthened. It would certainly need better coordination between the Centre and the states.
For example, only about a fortnight ago, LG of Delhi called a separate meeting with the officials of the NCT Delhi without inviting the political leadership of Delhi to participate. The meeting was held to review preparedness to fight COVID-19, and during the meeting LG stressed on coordinated action while he himself did not care to coordinate with the state government.
We have seen lack of proper coordination between the Centre and the opposition ruled states in general, and Maharashtra and Kerala in particular, which suffered the most during the second wave of the pandemic. Both the states need to be most prepared for the impending third wave. Kerala alone has been contributing about 50 per cent of the new infections of the country.
Among the states, NCT Delhi is far ahead in preparation. However, even in the national capital, commissioning of all PSA plants, LMO storage tanks and cryogenic bottling plants by August 31, the deadline set by the LG, does not seem possible. Other states and districts are far behind.
The Centre seems to be more interested in blaming the states rather than cooperating with them in right earnest. Take the example of Kerala. The Centre has been criticizing the state and pointing out its lapses, but it has been very slow in providing central assistance both in terms of finance and other medical supplies.
The Union Budget 2021-22 had provided Rs 23,123 crore to deal with COVID-19 in the current fiscal which was to be shared both by the Centre and the states. However, the Centre could announce the so-called COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health System Preparedness Package only in July. The Centre’s share is Rs 15,000 crore and the rest is to be shared by the states that are already in financial crisis.
Even from the Centre’s share, it will spend the funds on institutions run by it, leaving only Rs 12,185 crore to be shared with the states.
Moreover, the Centre has released only 15 per cent to the states just about three weeks ago on July 31. Obviously, the measures at the required level to tackle the third wave are yet to be in place.
Ten states – Maharashtra, Maharashtra, Kerala, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Mizoram, Assam, Manipur, and Meghalaya – are still vulnerable. We can narrow it down to 99 districts of the country out of which 46 had a positivity rate above 10 per cent and 53 between 5 and 10 per cent for a long time. Though new cases are almost under control, they are not substantially coming down for several weeks.
Several states have already said that they would impose lockdowns if the situation worsens, which speaks volumes in itself about their unpreparedness.
The Centre has taken much time even to kickstart an exercise to create a national stockpile of critical medicines to tide over the challenges around affordability and accessibility.
Views are personal