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By Rajendra Aneja
It is ironic that India, which produces around 60% of vaccines in the world, is facing scarcity of the same. Vaccinations had to be halted in many cities due to shortages. India should have built a massive buffer of vaccines, before commencing inoculations or exporting vaccines to 70 countries.
To exacerbate problems, an avalanche of infections has crippled the health infrastructure in many cities. Maharashtra is clocking around 65,000 cases daily; India is recording around 3,50,000 cases daily. What will happen if the number of daily cases spiral to 5 lakh or 10 lakh? India must control this catastrophe.
It is unfortunate that India became casual, when the numbers dipped in early 2021; the country must fight Covid-19 with a war-like mindset.
All elections, at state or panchayat level, should be postponed to 2022. No public rallies should be permitted. In the last few weeks, many leaders have battled elections in West Bengal, instead of battling Covid-19.
The Prime Minister should take personal charge of this battle, by establishing an All-Party War Room and managing it 24×7. The management of Covid-19 cannot be left to pious prayers or chance. It requires proactive management.
The production of vaccines, oxygen, remdesivir, syringes, etc, should be augmented on war-footing. The US has deployed war laws to boost the production of vaccines. India needs to do the same.
India should accelerate the import of the Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines for emergency use. There is no need to haggle when people are dying. India should try to get a basket of vaccines, rather than limit itself to one or two brands. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine would be ideal, for it requires just one jab.
India should also produce the Covaxin vaccine made by Bharat Biotech, in local laboratories, through third-party manufacturing agreements.
All cities with more than 5 lakh population should have night curfews, from 8 pm to 7 am. Whilst some lockdowns are imminent under these circumstances, they should be humane. Limited domestic help should be accessible, especially to senior citizens living alone. Vaccinations should continue at a furious pace, with elders and the disabled being inoculated at homes.
All religious gatherings should be banned for the next three months, at least.
Attendance at marriages and private celebrations should be restricted to just 20 guests.
Vaccinations should progress aggressively. Vans, health workers on motorcycles, foot soldier health workers should visit slums and villages to vaccinate the people expeditiously. Shopping malls, university compounds, parking lots, etc, should be deployed to accelerate vaccinations.
Vaccinations are the only sure way we have as of now, to arrest the spread of Covid-19. Health departments should introduce vaccination contests, with daily targets for health workers, hospitals, and states, with generous financial rewards and recognitions.
Large institutions, private and public, which have clinics and doctors, should inoculate their own employees. Indian Railways and Air India, large institutions with their own medical panels, should vaccinate their employees and families. Similarly, large private companies like Tata, Reliance, Godrej, Unilever, and so on should source vaccines and inoculate all their employees and families.
Distribution and sales of vaccines should be decentralised. State governments and municipalities have sought permissions to vaccinate slum-dwellers, through mobile vans. Why should they have to seek permission for such tactical steps? The vaccine tap should not be controlled by a few persons in the government.
Scientists and pharmaceutical companies should research easier forms of protecting people from Covid-19. Cuba has been conducting trials with a nasal spray vaccine. Pharma companies should research oral forms of vaccination like the polio drop, for easy dispersals.
Urgent research is also needed on the double mutant variant of Covid-19, which is ravaging India. The new strain should be controlled at the earliest, before it takes more lives and cripples the economy.
The author is Ex-MD, Unilever Tanzania, and the author of ‘Conquer Rural Marketing across Countries’ and ‘Business Express’