The coronavirus pandemic is from over. After a thaw of a week or so, the caseload is again creeping up. Reversing the declining trend seen in the previous two weeks, last week saw a big spurt. Overall, the total cases crossed the 11-million mark on Sunday, with the last million registered in 65 days, as against 29 days for the previous million. Yet, certain states which had begun to open up, restoring near-normalcy, seem to be in the severe grip of the virus once again.
Kerala, one of the states which had previously won kudos for keeping the virus under check, is now facing rapid spread of the infection. Maharashtra, another state which at last seemed to have contained the virus, has also come under its grip again. Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has talked of a second lockdown, should people not follow the basic precautions such as social distancing, wearing masks and hand-washing etc. The state has seen an 81 per cent spike in infections over the previous week.
Several districts are once again in the grip of the virus. Pune, Nashik, Amravati, Nagpur, etc., have registered a large number of cases, nearly equalling those recorded when the virus was at its peak last year. District authorities have withdrawn the relaxations, be it in the reopening of the educational institutions or markets or even public transport, in order to control the latest surge. Whether the gram panchayat polls held recently account for the recent surge or it is due to the other relaxations, nobody can say with any degree of certainty, but it is undeniable that the number of infections is again on the rise.
Meanwhile, the slow pace of tests, particularly in the states witnessing a fresh surge, has drawn the attention of the Central government. The Centre is said to have written to the five states, including Kerala and Maharashtra, to start using mobile vans for stepping up the RT-PCR tests. The concerns about mutant strains of the virus reaching India through people returning from abroad, particularly the UK and South Africa, too need to be addressed.
Even Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Punjab have seen a rise in infections in recent days, belying the general belief that the worst of the pandemic was behind us. In fact, the Punjab Government has decided to shut down all educational institutions and impose curbs on public places and restrict free movement of people to fight the spurt in the virus. Meanwhile, there is a surprising slowdown in the vaccination drive, with the 60-plus age group expected to start getting the first jab sometime next month only. Even in the big metros where the drive began with the healthcare workers, the police, etc., deservedly getting first priority, there remain huge gaps.
Why the authorities are dragging their feet in co-opting private sector health facilities to step up vaccinations is unclear. There should be no hesitation in making the vaccines available at a cost-plus basis for use by the private medical practitioners, if for no other reason, than to part compensate the huge costs of the free vaccination programme undertaken by the authorities.