Ramping up health infra, vaccination for all must to fight Coronavirus

Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi
Please pardon me for this repeated focus on the ongoing pandemic that has India in its grip.
Whenever you switch on the television or watch Twitter feed, grim news of our medical health systems coming under pressure, and in some places collapsing, evoke a sense of fear and helplessness in the face of an invisible enemy. Were we in India a bit complacent or began celebrating victory over Coronavirus a tad early ?
At least the Covid inappropriate behaviour of us all, across the country, is so visible for even the blind to see. In several places, and mostly in election-bound States, people were laughing off Covid threat and maintained that there was no Covid and that it was a hoax and nothing else.
But then when reality hit us with the advent of the second wave, it is clear that we as a Nation may have missed valuable time we had to prepare for exactly this eventuality. What is sad is that the temporary Covid-19 facilities that the Governments across the country built, like hospital beds in stadiums, railway coaches turned into treatment centers and the like are not handy when there is a need for them now.
In many cities, the hospitals are unable to cope with the arrivals of patients, and even the cremation grounds are overflowing with corpses, with city after city reporting horror tales in crumbling down of health infrastructure. Fortunately, some of the robust health infrastructure-built years ago is still intact, serving us well.
In this context, it must be appreciated that the Central Government has accorded importance to setting up AIIMS in different parts of the country, and if anything, the Government must be prodded to accelerate the completion of the specialty hospitals already cleared.
But for the present, there is an urgent need for hospital beds, doctors, nurses, technicians and oxygen, ventilators, and other medical paraphernalia needed to treat Covid patients that need to be ramped up at every health facility in the country. A big task, given the reports of shortage from different hospitals in several cities. Yes, moved by the plight of patients due to shortage of oxygen, industrialist Mukesh Ambani has come forward to supply oxygen to Mumbai hospitals.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called for ramping up production of medical grade oxygen on a day when active cases in India crossed the 15 lakh mark. The Centre has to intervene and direct all States to ensure free inter-city, inter-State transportation of oxygen and free movement of vehicles of oxygen manufacturers without any time limit. All welcome steps the Government has taken. Except, it would have been far more effective had the Government anticipated the second wave, going by the experience of other Nations that got hit by Covid months ahead of us.
Critics are blaming the Government and the Election Commission for the protracted elections in West Bengal, which fortunately so far has not seen a huge spike in cases, for allowing crowds to gather in utter disregard to Covid restrictions, masking up and social distancing. The huge political rallies, held by all political parties, health experts fear, would result in an explosion of West Bengal in a fortnight of the end of elections.
Now is not the time for any congregations. In fact, people should, in their own self-interest avoid going out, except on very important work, and stay indoors to help the authorities in containing the pandemic by breaking the chain of transmission.  
In hindsight, it is easy for us to prescribe what the Government ought to have done, but now is not the time to find fault with this Government or that State Government.
The pandemic is upon us, and how.
The severity of the second wave is being felt by one and all – now Delhi has overtaken Mumbai to become the worst affected city in India. And India with over two lakh cases a day has become the world’s leader behind the USA, but what is more worrisome is that the time taken for India to get to two lakh cases a day from one lakh cases a day is less than a week. If the wave continues with this pace, one shudders to think where it will end, and how much more pressure it would exert on our already stretched health infrastructure.
And to top it, we also have a vaccine shortage, given that there is a huge population waiting to get vaccinated. In several cities and towns, the vaccination drive has taken a pause, waiting for arrivals of fresh supplies of vaccination. Now realizing the shortfall, and the fact that the country’s capacity to produce vaccines was limited, the Government has given the go-ahead for various vaccines that have already gotten approval in foreign countries. Which paves the way for the import of vaccines from different countries.
In fact, the world is aghast that India that has been the biggest exporter of Covid 19 vaccines could soon turn into an importer which means it is bad news for countries that were looking to India for their supply of vaccines.
What makes the second wave more dangerous for us in India is that it is significantly different than the previous one in that it is also affecting the younger generation unlike the previous one that afflicted the elders. Today reports from Maharashtra,  Karnataka say that half of the persons getting Covid were below 45 years of age. Perhaps because the elder citizens had begun taking precautions and were staying home as compared to the younger ones and this could explain why the number of youngsters getting afflicted by Covid are more now.
In five States of Maharashtra, Chattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, and Delhi last month 80,000 children tested Covid positive.
Even when it comes to symptoms, the second wave victims are reporting symptoms other than those noticed in patients earlier. Now the new symptoms are pink eyes, loose motions, and hearing impairment, something that the doctors detected very recently. Of course, the previous symptoms of fever, chills, body ache, loss of smell and taste, and loss of breath or respiratory complications continue to be found in people testing positive. A patient may not have all of the above symptoms, but one or two or a combination of a few.
Now, this has naturally given rise to a demand that every adult be vaccinated, so that there can be a fix on the virus. Many States are urging the Centre to do away with the capping of age at 45 and above for vaccination to include every adult as youngsters are also testing positive and are prone to danger.
With the Government allowing import of vaccines and permission for other vaccines, supplies could be ramped up soon so that vaccination for all could become possible.
Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi is a senior journalist tracking social, economic, and political changes across the country. He was associated with the Press Trust of India, The Hindu, Sunday Observer, and Hindustan Times. He can be reached on [email protected] and Twitter handle @kvlakshman