It has been more than a year since the first case of Covid-19 was detected but the pandemic is still thriving across the country. The country recently witnessed a deadly second wave of Covid -19 which resulted in many people losing their loved ones. We are all aware of the hardships that the people have faced during the pandemic.
But what are the factors that have augmented these hardships?
The four major reasons that have led to this large scale crisis are:
- Center-State Coordination
The Indian government’s response to covid-19 was unilaterally centralized during the first wave of the pandemic despite health being a state subject. The central government took total control of the situation by declaring a nationwide lockdown but this created a problem for the state governments as it limited their ability to take decisions. Whereas during the second wave of a pandemic the central government shifted from a centralized decision-making system to a decentralized decision-making system where the states were entrusted with key tasks such as vaccine procurement and distribution. The central governments entrusting the state governments with key tasks and leaving upon them the fight against covid-19 led to the exaggerations of the center state conflict. In both the waves of covid-19 the most important thing i.e. the coordination between the center and state governments was absent which led to situations, such as no arrangements made for the sudden and large-scale homecoming of migrant workers and shortage of vaccines in most of the states.
- Infrastructural Deficiency
Covid -19 has exposed the poor healthcare system of our country and has shown the government why expenditure on the development of healthcare infrastructure should be prioritized to deal with such outbreaks in the future. During the second wave of covid-19, the ill-preparedness of the healthcare system was evident. Hospitals in various states faced extreme shortages of oxygen cylinders, beds, Ventilators, etc. This shortage of essential medical services was caused due to the complacent behavior of the government. The central and the state government started augmenting essential medical services such as oxygen cylinders and ICU beds during the first wave of covid -19. This led to an increase in the oxygen-supported bed by 297 percent, ICU beds by 143 percent, and ventilators by 151 percent between April 2020 and September 2020. But as the cases of covid-19 started to decrease in the latter part of the year, the pace of development in the healthcare sectors also decreased. By the start of the second wave of covid -19, there was a drastic decrease in the availability of oxygen beds(by 36.5 percent since September 2020), ICU beds( by 46 percent), and ventilators (by 28 percent). This resulted in the second wave of covid -19 being more deadly as compared to the first wave.
- Financial Deficiency
Looking at the infrastructural deficiency it is evident that the government has failed to properly direct its fund to develop the healthcare infrastructure. To control the pandemic the government needs to spend its money wisely and judiciously in areas that can help augment the fight against the pandemic. One such area is Genome sequencing.
A lot has been emphasized on genome sequencing by various experts and scientists as it plays a very important role in identifying the new mutations of the virus. But the government failed to give the required importance to genome sequencing and was complacent, not keeping track of mutations of the virus that could trigger a second wave of covid-19. It was only after the Alpha variant (also known as the UK variant ) was identified in England, that the Union ministry of health and family welfare created the Indian Sars-Cov-2 Genomics Consortium(INSACOG). But the problem was not solved with this as the major problem faced by INSACOG was funding. INSACOG was initially allocated Rs 115 crores for a six-month period, which was to come through the department of biotechnology. But the first tranche of the funds was released only on March 2021, and the allocation was also reduced to 80 crores.
- Public Psychology
Mental well-being for a long has largely been neglected by the people in India but this pandemic which forced the governments to announce lockdowns has negatively impacted the mental well-being of the people. Looking at the current situation people are anxious about the future. The level of anxiety and stress among people has increased. People losing their loved ones due to covid-19, financial stress, uncertainty about the future has further augmented this problem. Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the initial stage of the pandemic tried to reduce the anxiety and uplift the spirits of people in the fight against covid-19 by regularly coming up live and giving speeches, asking people to bang vessels at 5 pm, clap and switch of lights for 9minutes at 9 pm and light candles and diyas to mark country’s fight against Covid-19. But such measures vanished as the pandemic progressed.
Since the third wave of Covid -19 is expected to hit India in the latter part of the year let’s have a look at the measures that should be taken to reduce the extent of the third wave of covid -19.
Vaccination is the most effective way to contain the spread of Covid-19. India started vaccinating people on January 16, 2021. It has been six months since the start of vaccination but until now only a few percent of the total population has been vaccinated. The slowdown in the vaccination process has been caused due to a shortage of vaccines in various states. The central government has targeted to vaccinate the entire adult population by the end of the year but to achieve the target the government would urgently need to ramp up vaccine procurement. At the current pace, the government would not be able to achieve its target. Based on available data statisticians say India needs to accelerate its vaccination drive sixfold to achieve its target. In order to prevent the extent of the third wave of covid-19 a certain percentage of the population would need to achieve immunity. The best way to do so would be to expand the process of vaccine distribution.
During the second wave of the pandemic, there were a few steps that the government took to streamline the distribution of essential medical equipment such as the setting up of a 24*7 control room, by the department for the promotion of industry and internal trade to monitor the movement of GPS tagged oxygen trucks from their loading till delivery in various states. Many state governments also came up with IT-enabled systems to maintain the supply and demand of critical medical requirements. For example, the UP government set up district-level demand and supply monitoring war rooms under district magistrates. The war rooms monitored oxygen requirements in hospitals and homes as well as the need for critical medicines, plasma, and ambulances. Punjab also had a control room with a database of medicines, food essentials, and round-the-clock medical advice. The Karnataka government also had set up similar war rooms, which monitored the demand and supply of oxygen and critical medicines in government and private hospitals. But the major problems faced by these setups were lack of uniformity and getting inadequate inputs. To streamline the flow of scarce resources such as oxygen beds, ICU beds, ventilators, etc and to prevent black marketing of essential medicines, the government should set up a centralized technology based-real time information dissemination system in each state, with nodes linked to a central monitoring control unit under the union health ministry.
But these efforts alone would not be sufficient to deal with the third wave of covid-19. One of the major reasons for the deadly second wave of covid-19 was the complacent behaviour of the people. There were instances reported where people flocked around public places without wearing masks, social distancing norms were openly violated and people gathered in large numbers without following covid protocols. These mistakes should not be repeated and people should learn from the mistakes they made during the second wave of the pandemic.
-By Shivam Tiwari