The Indian Government has venerated itself for its handling of the pandemic. Still, vagaries within socio-economic factors emanating from the initial lockdown could worsen amidst a recent spike in cases.
A sudden rise in Covid-19 cases across India has sparked concerns of another lockdown over the past few weeks. On February 21, India recorded 14,000 new infections- the highest daily number recorded since January 29 last year. As of February 23, the total number of cases across the nation went over 11 million. NITI Aayog Member (Health), VK Paul, announced on Tuesday that a total of 194 people in the country are infected with the UK strain detected in the largest number.
India continues to find its way back from last summer’s pandemic-induced lockdown and the difficulty that followed. A steady rise in Covid infections amidst fears of a second-wave has sharpened the possibility of relapse the advances made across various sectors.
Abated Vaccination Drive
India is set to become the second-largest vaccine producer globally, aiming to produce 3.5 million doses in 2021. India has administered more than 11.1 million Vaccine doses- the fourth-highest in the world. But with a slow vaccine rollout process, experts have pointed out that the daily number of doses administered has not been enough for the country to reach its goal of inoculating the 300 million population, which would prove costly if a second-wave were to occur.
Moreover, doubts over the efficacy of the Bharat Biotech produced Covaxin. The lack of take from the Government for the Serum Institute of India (SII) produced Covidshield. The non-involvement of private firms and institutions in the inoculation campaign could further slacken the vaccination drive. With India set to strengthen its output, to vaccinate its “priority population” (individuals of 50 years and above), the vaccination program’s inefficiencies could impede any advancement in the overall campaign, thus increasing the vulnerabilities of India’s substantial population.
Lockdown Woes Remain Unresolved
The Indian Government has venerated itself for its handling of the pandemic. Still, vagaries within socio-economic factors emanating from the initial lockdown have remained visibly unaddressed.
The recent budget for the financial year 2021-22 focused on recovering from the economic fallout due to the pandemic. With the emphasis on improving the Infrastructure and Healthcare sector, the budget boosts employment generation through long-term infrastructure projects. However, experts noted that relief was not provided to the Micro-Small-Mini enterprise (MSME) sector – which hires 40% of the nation’s informal workforce.
The MSME sector was the hardest hit by India’s “stringent” lockdown – resulting in many layoffs and small businesses going bankrupt. The lack of social security benefits tied with the loss of income exacerbated the lament of the workforce. Moreover, data from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) revealed that families within the informal sector faced increased hunger during and after the lockdown. Many haven’t received incomes. The Right to Food Campaign, which conducted a survey on food security between October-December last year, found that food consumption among the poor and marginalized communities was far less than the amount they were consuming pre-lockdown.
The Government has increased budget allocations towards ‘Umbrella’ schemes and various other initiatives such as Anganwadi Services and the Mahatma Gandhi National And Rural Employment Act (MGNERA) – on paper – in a bid to revive the rural economy.
Despite this, the lack of food security coupled with significant budget cuts on various nutritional schemes – for women and children alike – and a lack of adequate income could prove to be a barrier for India’s informal workforce in case of a lockdown again.
Laxity in Safety protocols
As the population began to find its way back to normalcy, following ease in lockdown restrictions, the defiance of safety measures – to contain the spread of the virus – was overtly evident. Following the dilution of domestic travel restrictions, crowds of tourists and vacationers smattered across India’s tourist hubs, eventually resulting in the coronavirus’s spread across towns with no previous recorded infection cases.
A recent surge in cases in three central states, including Kerala and Maharashtra, has intensified public fear amidst the glooming possibility of a second lockdown. However, experts say that a second lockdown would be detrimental to the population still reeling from the fallout of the initial lockdown.
While infectious-disease experts have attributed India’s low per-capita case rate to a mix of strict-public health measures and discrepancies in the rural account of cases recorded, the health ministry has credited its success with various factors, including its robust testing mechanisms and contact-tracing efforts. India’s testing phase began moderately but gained traction through the summer. The prevailing insouciance towards safety protocols can dampen the progress made, experts say.
Decentralizing and Developing WASH Infrastructure
Further, a lack of equitable access to water – an indispensable resource in the fight against the virus – and sanitation in informal urban settlements could make the population susceptible to the virus. The coronavirus is at the most dangerous in urban clustered settlements. A study conducted by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) noted that the likeliness of a Covid-19 spreading in urban areas and informal urban settlements is 1.89 higher compared to 1.09 in rural settlements.
Moreover, the reliance on short-term mitigation plans has thwarted building resilient communities as opposed to long-term preparedness. Experts have argued that decentralization is critical to ensure an effective response in times of crisis. In Mumbai, for instance – the second-most densely populated city in the world – 40% of the population live in informal settlements. As a result, the Maharashtra Government roped in several development partners to improve water and sanitation access via digital tools. Similarly, in Dhaka, the pre-pandemic digitization ensured that the Dhaka Water Supply and Sewage Authority (DWASA) provide 24×7 water supply to informal settlements.
The need for a pro-public approach in handling an open-ended crisis such as the coronavirus is further stressed by the Government’s need to prioritize Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) infrastructure for the fight against the future crisis. To ensure this, National and State Governments need to encourage local governments and communities through adequate funding whilst acknowledging them as primary stakeholders in creating WASH resilience.
A key criterion in accessing WASH services relates to land and housing rights. In the absence of a Clear land tenure, which guarantees communities’ rights to manage and own the land they reside on, the access to WASH services is limited, resulting in the exclusion of the urban poor and informal settlements. Moreover, studies reveal that 60% of slum residents are dependent on a shared water source, and about 40% do not have a bathroom or toilet installed at their home. Hence, a meaningful way to resolve this is by increasing land and housing supply and strengthening land and housing rights of urban and informal settlements while improving water and sanitation access.
Given that the pandemic has exposed the socio-economic gaps between the privileged and the vulnerable population, Governments across all levels need to comprehend the consequential need to develop resilient urban communities. Ward-level plans, platforms for collaborations around emergencies, and protocols for action need to be set in advance so that mitigation plans are carried out coherently in case of a future crisis. Besides, if long-term sustainable goals replace short-term mitigation plans, building resilient communities and protecting the vulnerable population will be viable.
ओमिक्रॉन वैरिएंट के चलते भारत में स्थगित हुई अंतरराष्ट्रीय हवाई यात्रा
कोरोना वायरस के ओमिक्रॉन वैरिएंट के कारण भारत में पूर्व निर्धारित अंतरराष्ट्रीय विमान सेवाएं रोक दी गई हैं। सरकार की तरफ से पहले यह फैसला किया गया था कि 15 दिसंबर से अंतरराष्ट्रीय उड़ानों को शुरू किया जाएगा। लेकिन ओमिक्रोन के खतरे को मद्दे नज़र रखते हुए अब इस फैसले को टाल दिया गया है। यानी अब भारत में 15 दिसंबर से अंतरराष्ट्रीय उड़ानें शुरू नहीं हो पाएंगी। डायरेक्टोरेट जनरल ऑफ सिविल एविएशन की तरफ से कहा गया है कि वो अपने पूर्व के फैसले पर पुनर्विचार करेगें।
— DGCA (@DGCAIndia) December 1, 2021
प्रधानमंत्री नरेंद्र मोदी ने 27 नवंबर को ओमिक्रॉन को लेकर बैठक की थी और इसी दौरान 15 दिसंबर से अंतरराष्ट्रीय उड़ानें शुरू करने के फैसले पर पुनर्विचार करने को कहा गया था। प्रधानमंत्री ने विदेश से आने वाले लोगों की सख्त निगरानी करने की बात भी कही थी। ओमिक्रॉन के चलते हाल ही में सिक्किम ने विदेशी यात्रियों के आने-जाने पर रोक लगा दी है।
पिछले वर्ष कोरोना के चलते एहतियातन देश में नियमित अंतरराष्ट्रीय उड़ानें रद्द कर दी गई थी। हालांकि कुछ समय बाद कई देशों के साथ सीमित हवाई सेवा शुरू कर दी गई थी। ऐसा माना जा रहा था की इस बार क्रिसमस और नए साल की छुट्टियों के मौके पर अंतरराष्ट्रीय उड़ानें फिर से शुरू कर दी जाएंगी लेकीन, दक्षिण अफ्रीका में पाए गए ओमिक्रॉन वैरिएंट के कारण अभी इस पर ब्रेक लगता दिख रहा है।
कई देशों में इस खतरनाक वैरिएंट को लेकर गाइडलाइंस जारी कर दी गई हैं, और इससे बचने के लिए अनेकों ऐहतियात बरते जा रहे है। WHO ने इसे ‘वैरिएंट ऑफ कंसर्न’, यानि चिंताजनक घोषित किया है।
जनरल वीके सिंह ने सोमवार को कहा था कि “अंतरराष्ट्रीय उड़ानों को फिर से शुरू करने के लिए हम पर जनता का जबरदस्त दबाव है”। हम सभी नियमों का पालन कर रहे हैं और सावधानी बरत रहे हैं। बाहर से आने वाले हर व्यक्ति का परीक्षण और जांच हवाई अड्डे पर किया जा रहा है। परिणामों को देखने के बाद ही, उन्हें अनुमति दी जा रही है।
कोरोना वायरस के नए वैरिएंट ओमिक्रॉन के खतरे को देखते हुए केंद्रीय स्वास्थ्य मंत्रालय ने भारत आने वाले अंतरराष्ट्रीय यात्रियों के लिए संशोधित दिशानिर्देश जारी किए हैं। इन दिशानिर्देशों के तहत अब यात्रियों को 14 दिन की यात्रा जानकारी और कोरोना वायरस की निगेटिव आरटी-पीसीआर जांच रिपोर्ट एयर सुविधा पोर्टल पर अपलोड करना अनिवार्य होगा। स्वास्थ्य मंत्रालय के दिशानिर्देशों के अनुसार खतरे की श्रेणी में आने वाले देशों के यात्रियों को भारत पहुंचने पर कोरोना जांच करवानी होगी और जांच का परिणाम आने तक एयरपोर्ट पर ही इंतजार करना होगा। अगर उनकी जांच निगेटिव आती है तो उन्हें सात दिन तक होम क्वारंटीन में रहना होगा और आठवें दिन फिर जांच की जाएगी। इस बार भी निगेटिव आने पर उन्हें अगले सात दिन के लिए खुद अपने स्वास्थ्य पर नजर रखने को कहा जाएगा।
कोरोना वायरस का नया वैरियंट ओमीक्रोन भारत में भी दस्तक दे चुका है। साथ ही साथ ऑस्ट्रेलिया, ऑस्ट्रिया, बेल्जियम, बोत्सवाना, ब्राजील, कनाडा, चेक गणराज्य, डेनमार्क, फ्रांस, जर्मनी, घाना, हांगकांग, आयरलैंड, इजराइल, इटली, जापान, मोजाम्बिक, नीदरलैंड, नाइजीरिया, नॉर्वे, पुर्तगाल, रीयूनियन द्वीपसमूह, सऊदी अरब, दक्षिण अफ्रीका, दक्षिण कोरिया, स्पेन, स्वीडन, स्विटजरलैंड, यूएई, ब्रिटेन और अमेरिका भी ओमीक्रोन के गिरफ्त में आ चुके हैं।
Hypocrisy of Federalism: Reply on Oxygen Related Deaths
On Tuesday, the Union Health Ministry reported to the Parliament that no deaths were recorded due to a lack of oxygen across the country during the second wave of the pandemic.
The officials and ministers in eight states also denied fatalities due to the lack of oxygen. Whereas reports indicate that approximately 320 patients may have died in the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic due to oxygen shortage.
The report by the Union Health Ministry to the Parliament has triggered massive criticism across the country. It has also prompted some significant accusations against the Bhartiya Janata Party [BJP].
The denial of the officials and ministers of the eight states regarding the same has also triggered a major rebuttal from within their parties, accusing them of aiding the Centre in hiding oxygen-related deaths.
According to a volunteer-driven data collation effort, DataMeet, Media from across 20 states report that there were approximately 619 deaths recorded due to lack of oxygen. However, later the cause of deaths was disputed with other factors that attributed to the fatalities.
The state health minister of Maharashtra, Rajesh Tope also sided with the Centre’s stand of no-oxygen-related deaths.
“As far as Maharashtra is concerned, we have never said that any death due to oxygen shortage,” he said to a local TV channel on Wednesday.
However, in April and May, the shortage of oxygen supply in the state had prompted the Chief Minister, Mr. Uddhav Thackeray, to request the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, to inspect the proposal of pressing the Indian Air Force to arrange additional oxygen supplies for the state.
A medical board in Hisar- a region in Haryana, had openly established oxygen shortage as a cause of deaths in the region.
Additionally, after an inquiry, 22 patients succumbed to Covid due to the lack of oxygen in Haryana.
According to the reports of DataMeet, figures indicated that approximately 68 deaths took place across the state of Madhya Pradesh due to lack of oxygen.
However, Vishwas Sarang, the medical education Minister, stated, “We received at least 10-12 complaints related to deaths due to oxygen supply disruption. Medical experts found the cause of death was other medical complications, not hypoxia,”
In Goa, between May 10- May 14, approximately 83 patients succumbed to death.
But according to Dr Shivanand Bandekar, the Dean of Goa Medical College and Hospital stated, “We can’t put this as a direct answer. People who come to GMC, they are all referred because we are a tertiary (care) center where criticality is high and most of the patients die because of Covid pneumonia where oxygen is a part of the treatment. So we cannot directly say this (disruption in the oxygen supply) is the reason why they have died,”
However, during the hearing at Goa at the time of these deaths, the state government had admitted that “some of the casualties may have taken place” due to supply disruption.
Within the same hearing, the Bombay High Court had said, “We have long passed the stage of determining whether patients are suffering from the lack of oxygen or not. The material placed before us establishes that patients are indeed suffering and even in some cases succumbing for want of the supply of oxygen, in the State of Goa.”
Officials and ministers of several states like West Bengal, Odisha, Bihar, and Uttar Pradesh took a similar stand while siding with the Centre on their “no deaths due to Oxygen shortage” statement.
Even though various reports and data reflect a significant number of deaths due to a shortage of oxygen supply within different states, the Center and the state officials have refused to acknowledge them and have denied that these fatalities are attributed to the lack of oxygen supply.
Health Activist Amulya Nidhi from Madhya Pradesh, claims that volunteer groups from across the country have clear case studies and data that report deaths of patients across various states due to a lack of oxygen supply. “If they are so sure about it, they should allow an independent team of experts to probe the matter,” he said.
Why Are people Not Taking Covid Vaccine?
Since the beginning of the Pandemic in 2020, all people have wanted is to find a way back to normal. A way from virtual lives to real, social lives. Being trapped at home with limited movement has been fun for no one. And yet, when a solution is finally being offered, people are hesitant to embrace it. Vaccines are the solution to once and for all immunise us against this virus, but many people fail to embrace the cure. Even though the vaccination reduces risks in exposure to the mutating variants of the Novel Coronavirus, there are people reluctant to take the possibly life-saving shot.
A vaccine race began throughout the world to curb the spread of Covid, India being one of the leaders. Immunisation is proven to be the most successful means to prevent diseases. Still, there is always hesitance that follows with the process. Many reasons cause vaccine hesitancy, but three of the main reasons are inadequate knowledge and fear of side effects, the speed of vaccine development, and rumours and myths.
The biggest fear that prevents people from taking the vaccine is a fear of side effects caused by inadequate knowledge. Many of us might show reluctance in taking the vaccine, fearing the severity of side effects. This tends to happen because most people do not understand how a vaccine works and nudges our bodies to create antibodies in our system to immunise us to the virus.
Many people reason that the side effects make them sick when they have been in perfect health for so long. They believe that it is the vaccine that makes them sick. This cannot be further from the truth. The public needs to be made aware of the workings of the vaccine to promote the vaccination drive around the world.
The other cause for hesitancy is the speed at which the vaccines have been developed. Many people believe that simply because the development speed of Covid immunising shots was quicker as compared to past viruses, corners have been cut in the process. It is essential to know that this is not true as all the procedures have been followed during the development of vaccines. None of them have been permitted for distribution without clinical trials and the approval of the FDA.
The last reason is that of rumours and myths. The rural population, a key demographic in our country, is reluctant to take the vaccine due to a lack of information provided to them. The inadequacy makes them quick to believe in rumours and myths surrounding immunisation, consequently making them reluctant to participate in the process. Reports of death post the vaccine have fanned the rumour mills in rural areas regarding the fatality of the vaccine.
Hesitancy in vaccination can also be seen in another key demographic, women. The proof for this in India is the disparity in men’s vaccination ratios which are starkly contrasting. Rumours and myths surrounding vaccines have led the population to believe that taking the jab affects fertility in women. It is essential to know that vaccinations do not cause infertility in men or women. It is this kind of rumour-mongering that causes fear in people.
Misleading tweets by prominent figures also cause vaccine hesitancy. One prime example is senior advocate Prashant Bushan, whose tweets about the efficacy and safety of covid vaccines were tagged as “misleading” by Twitter.
Misinformation being spread by prominent people is another cause of reluctance in people not taking the vaccine, which must be stopped to defeat the Pandemic.
Many people who have already suffered from Coronavirus also believe that they do not need the vaccine as they are already immune to the disease. This is a falsehood that needs to be cleared as a vaccine prolongs the effectiveness of the immunisation, keeping the person safe for a more extended period.
Vaccines are preventative medicines that allow us to acquire immunity against the virus, preparing our bodies to protect us in case of exposure to the disease. While vaccination may not provide complete safety, it reduces the severity of the infection and the chances of death.
With newer and stronger variants emerging as mutations of the Coronavirus, all of us must be fully vaccinated. It is the only way to ensure the safety of ourselves and those around us. It is also the only way to make a return slowly but surely to what we knew as “normal” and stop living life as we have known for the past one and a half years.
"No one from govt has come to visit us or order an enquiry into my wife's death.I still curse myself for persuading my wife to take the vaccine.I thought it would save us from the virus, but it killed her".
The govt is not monitoring adverse events from vaccine nor releasing data pic.twitter.com/pcJv9cqUYW
— Prashant Bhushan (@pbhushan1) June 28, 2021
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