ONE YEAR OF COVID
On March 25, 2020, the Prime Minister of India, Mr Narendra Modi announced the nationwide lockdown in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. At that time, the number of Covid positive cases in the country were few hundreds only. However, the fear and uncertainty associated with Covid were so high that the government decided in favour of imposing a lockdown. What was initially expected to last a few days, turned out to be the longest, quickest and most severe lockdown that the world had witnessed. At a time when the European nations were witnessing a surge in cases and resulting deaths, panic and fear had gripped the world. An initially supposed to be a 21-day lockdown eventually lasted for 68 days.
The months of April and May 2020 witnessed a near-complete shutdown of all economic activity barring essential services. People were confined to their homes. Workplaces were shut. Roads and public places wore a deserted look. Clear blue skies, chirping birds, peacocks, even the sight of the Dauladhars from Jalandhar in Punjab became a common sight. Nature seemed to have reclaimed its place. At the same time, the difference between the haves and have nots in society became even stark. On one side families could be seen cooking delicacies and posting on social media, on the other side, many daily wagers were struggling to manage two square meals a day for themselves. Some good samaritans pitched in along with government agencies and NGOs to organize community kitchens and distribute food packets to the needy. This period also showcased India’s soft power to the world. Being the largest manufacturer of Hydroxychloroquine, India exported Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) to many countries, alongside meeting the domestic demand. The nationwide lockdown did help contain the initial spread of the infection, which could have been disastrous for a populous country like India.At the same time it gave India the much needed time to ramp up its health care infrastructure and be better prepared to deal with the pandemic. Initially only the National Institute of Virology, Pune was equipped to test for Covid. It received samples from all over the country. Slowly however various government and private facilities have been provided the capacity to test samples for Covid.
However considering the impact on the economy and the associated distress, the government announced easing of restrictions in the form of Unlock1.0. Once this was announced, the migrant labour started moving back to their hometowns as the hope of livelihood in the city of dreams turned grim. Though the government started buses and special Shramik trains to ferry them, still these measures were not enough to satiate the desperation to go back home. Young and old, women and children could be seen walking on the highways and along railway tracks with their meager belongings. The government soon announced the One Nation, One Ration Card scheme to help retain the migrants in the cities. One factor was also the fear that the mass exodus may lead to spread of infection to rural areas which were hitherto untouched.Some managed to reach their destinations after undertaking long and ardous journeys, few died on the way while some others decided to return back, lured by the incentives offered by employers due to the incoming rabi sowing season.
As more restrictions were eased, economic activity witnessed revival. However the downside was that the number of cases started rising in July with Unlock 2.0. The flights were allowed to operate, restrictions were largely limited to containment zones, night curfew was put in place at most places while day time activities were allowed in restrictive manner. Various research based studies predicted peak to be achieved in July or August. For the first time even the Independence Day celebrations were carried out in restrictive manner. Unlock 2.0 gave way to Unlock 3.0 . More activities were opened up while the cases also witnessed an increase, peaking in September. After this there was however a decline witnessed in the number of cases while hope appeared in the form of a vaccine being made available by December 2020. October and November witnessed further easing of restrictions, which coupled with the festival season in India, once again witnessed an upward trend in the number of positive cases.
The winter months however witnessed a declining graph of the number of cases. The dawn of the New Year saw the roll out of the vaccine in India. The frontline workers and healthcare workers were the first to be targeted for the vaccine shot. Challenges galore for a vast country like India. Before the vaccine, most people were eager to get the shot as soon as it was launched but once it was launched fear gripped around the efficacy and side effects leading to vaccine hesitancy. Just around half of the target group actually came forward to get the jab. India once again came to the rescue of poor nations. India’s Vaccine Maitri initiative saw India exporting millions of doses of the vaccine to other countries. This was highly appreciated the world over. The Covaxin-Covishield debate took a while to settle down. More than 5 crore people have been vaccinated in India as of now. This number is too small as compared to India’s population. We have a long way to go. The recent surge in cases has shown that the virus is mutating. Many mutant strains are being discovered among the recent infections. These strains are more dangerous as these are more easily transmissible and the efficacy of the existing vaccines against these is not completely and certainly known yet.
Research shows that herd immunity is likely to be achieved if upward of 70 percent population is covered. Sero surveys conducted from time to time have revealed that this number is too far to be achieved sometime soon. The vaccine drive has to be expedited. The age related restrictions for being eligible for taking the vaccine should be done away with. It is already two months since the vaccine was rolled out. These restrictions prevent the working age population from getting the jab. Recent surge in infections have witnessed more cases among the working age adults as they are more mobile. Apart from these the SMS measures have to be strictly enforced. SMS measures are Sanitizing hands frequently, Mask and Social distancing. Infact, there should not be a need for enforcement, as the public has to be wise enough to understand the effectiveness of these simple and cheap methods of preventing the infection. Besides the government is also upgrading the triple T strategy which means Test, Track, Treat. Testing capacities have been upgraded. The rapid antigen test and the RT-PCR test both are being used to test the samples. Contact tracing of positive cases is being done to track any positive contacts, which may be asymptomatic. Treatment protocols have been modified with more emphasis on isolation and symptomatic treatment at home. Hospitalization is recommended only for severe cases with breathing difficulty or other complications.
We need to understand that safeguarding the health of the people is as important as safeguarding livelihoods. One aspect cannot be compromised for the other. The best way is to follow a lifestyle that incorporates the SMS (Sanitizer,Mask,Social Distancing) strategy in our daily routines. In addition the vaccination drive has to be fast tracked. Misconceptions and myths associated with the vaccine have to be dealt away with sternly. Testing capacity has to be upgraded and treatment modalities have to be judiciously utilized. Only then can we win the battle against Covid-19.
(The views expressed are personal)
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