Even as the debate over vaccine coverage heats up, a clear indication of the dire situation we are in came from outside. New Zealand has banned Indian travellers from its shores—others may follow suit—after 17 of the 23 new cases there turned out to be from here. The number seems a drop in the ocean, compared to what India is pushing inside its territory. On Friday, we reported 1.32 lakh fresh cases: the third lakh-plus day in a row. Since March 11, the daily tally of active cases has consistently overtaken single-day recoveries. With some 10 lakh active cases (the last it was like this was in September), India now tops the world charts in that department.
The spatially clustered nature of this alarming second wave—Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Delhi, Gujarat—is making experts fear the presence of multiple new variants, symptomatically different and more infectious than the original. Without genome sequencing, there’s no way to know which variant is causing the most damage. One of the premier institutes that could do this, NIMHANS, is cash-starved. Simultaneously, many states are also reporting vaccine shortage. Even if the jab offers an absolute guarantee of only a less severe infection, aggressive vaxxing combined with a prolonged lockdown has helped the UK reduce cases by 60%.
A lockdown may not be a feasible option for economically stressed India. So the way to go is mandatory, not voluntary, vaccination, proceeding along the cline of vulnerability till universal coverage is attained. To enable this, states should be allowed to procure on their own. Russia’s Sputnik V may get authorisation soon. What the Centre must do forthwith is allow other vaccine brands in the queue, like Pfizer-Biotech, Moderna and J&J. Both the government and the people need to set their priorities right. The obsession with elections and religious festivals must give way to pragmatism.