The second wave of COVID-19 has come back with ferocity, nobody could have imagined even a fortnight back. This has manifested the most in Delhi, where patients, their relatives, and doctors look helplessly as oxygen supply depletes quickly in hospitals after hospitals.
Hopefully, the situation will be under control with supply bottlenecks being addressed, and also importing oxygen concentrators from abroad.
However, the core problem of the COVID surge still remains. In an exponential rise in coronavirus infections in just three days, India has added a million new cases. That's chilling. No lockdown can help. Besides, there is not enough empirical evidence to show that the lockdown, Janta curfew, night curfew, you call it by whatever name, does help.
It only adds up to economic misery and affects the livelihoods of many who barely survive with wages. During the first national lockdown last year I had assessed the cost of lockdown at around Rs 41,000 crore per day.
This time, with lockdown limited to some states, and with varying degrees of restrictions, the cost could be much less. But if the surge in cases continues, and lockdowns gets extended, or get more restrictive, we have to pay a heavy price both in terms of life and livelihood.
The only solution to fight corona is to vaccinate, vaccinate and vaccinate. This will help curtail the spread of infection to some extent and save fatalities to a great extent.
However, the progress in vaccinations needs to be ramped up significantly if we have to win the fight against COVID-19. In Mumbai, only 1 out of 4 vaccination centres open (37 open, 95 shut) due to shortage of vaccine. This does not bode well.
Starting May 1st, all those above the age of 18 will be eligible to get vaccinated. This will cover an approximate populace of 84 crore. To get them vaccinated with two doses (most vaccines in world are two doses) we need to have 168 crore doses.
The vaccination in India started on January 16 this year. So far we have administered around 14 crore doses (12 crore first doses and 2 crore second doses). At this pace, it will take years for India to get vaccinated.
It is time policymakers and the national disaster management team sit together and find out how to ramp up existing domestic production and how to import from manufacturers abroad.
India Ratings have done a calculation that the cost of vaccinating will be Rs 67,193 crore, less than 0.4% of our GDP. The approach should be whatever it takes.
We are at war with the virus and measures need to be taken on a war footing. We can park aside issues around pricing, who will pay- Centre, state for another day.
This is a national disaster and the national government should drive the initiative. So far, we have vaccinated only 2% with both doses. Let's put our best foot forward and ensure that a reasonably large proportion of our eligible population gets vaccinated by August 15th, so that from the ramparts of Red Fort, we can declare our independence from COVID-19.
(The author is a policy analyst and columnist)