State action: On Centre’s role in COVID-19 fight

Instead of dictating how States deal with the pandemic, the Centre must be a facilitator

India’s national positivity rate, or the proportion of tested cases returning positive, is around 21%. Moreover, 533 of the 734 districts have reported positivity greater than 10%. There are 26 States that had more than 15% positivity, nine with over 25% and 10 with 20%-25% positivity. Couple that with the faltering vaccination drive, and the picture is far from pretty. On April 12, India administered 3.7 million doses of vaccine and after April 26, it has failed to administer over 3 million doses a day. Ever since the vaccine drive was expanded to all adults over 18, on May 1, the maximum number of daily doses administered has been 2.4 million. This, even as daily new cases added continue to be above 380,000 and deaths close to 4,000 a day. The oxygen crisis continues and the pandemic has now established itself in rural India in lethal proportions, with macabre reports of bodies surfacing in the Ganga in the stretch from Uttar Pradesh to Bihar. All of these point to the fact that there is a very large pool of those infected and prone to infecting those around, bringing up the question of whether a national lockdown should be reimposed.

No fewer than 18 States have imposed various grades of lockdown or curfews. Some only lay stress on shutting down marketplaces whereas others are more reminiscent of the curbs of March and April last year. These restrictions are expected to be in force at least till the third week of this month. Many of the States with the highest positivity rates and growth in infections have already imposed restrictions on the main sources of continued spread. These include religious gatherings, social functions and leisure visits to public entertainment spaces. A ‘national lockdown’ at this stage has only cosmetic value. India’s economy was already in a nosedive before March 2020 and the sudden imposition wreaked havoc on the migrant workforce. The brutality of the second wave has burnished the importance of masking up and opting for a vaccine as early as possible. In the absence of newer effective treatments, these continue to be the mainstay in staying safe. A lesson that has emerged from the pandemic is that States are best equipped to take care of themselves with the Centre doing its job best while acting as a facilitator. Central Ministers, armed with the best medical experts, had declared early this year that India was in the ‘end game’ of the pandemic and that India had “shown the world” how to beat it. Instead, the Centre must focus on distributing equitably across States vaccines, oxygen tankers, testing kits and other critical medical equipment while also accounting for a potential third wave.



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