The first wave of COVID-19 has come as a surprise. Nations across the world were ill-prepared to tackle the pandemic. The US and European nations too, despite economic muscle and scientific knowhow, could not prevent the pandemic devastation. Thus, India’s suffering due to the novel coronavirus in the first outbreak is understandable though certain measures of governments proved to be wrong in hindsight. But, a year later, the more pervasive second phase is certainly man-made as Allahabad high court pointed out “It’s a Shame That While Government Knew of Magnitude of COVID Second Wave, It Never Planned Things In Advance”. Though the courts’ comments were on the Uttar Pradesh government handling of the recent outbreak of COVID, it applies more to the central government which right from the beginning presided over the country’s anti-COVID response.
More recently, the government of India started announcing measures that have long been pending. The BJP leaders mocked Rahul Gandhi describing him as a lobbyist for foreign companies when the congress leaders urged the centre to give emergency authorization to the vaccines cleared by foreign regulators. Now the Modi government decided to allow the same foreign vaccines.
When the US government provided $11 billion support to eight big pharma companies to develop vaccines and signed purchase orders with them guaranteeing procurement of vaccines as early as July 2020. The government of India has now decided to provide a credit of Rs 4500 crore to Serum Institute and Bharat biotech. Such an inordinate delay in responding to the request for fiscal support has severely undermined vaccine manufacturing to meet the demand for inoculation.
Given the fast spread of the second wave, there has been a demand for vaccinating all Indian adults. The centre dismissed it and claimed that it is following a scientific approach. But, the central government conceded to this demand, only after the daily new cases nearly reached 3 lakh.
Experts suggested that in pandemic times, the scientific knowledge has to be shared so that the capacity of pharma companies that have not discovered the vaccine should also be tapped to boost manufacturing. The US administration has ensured that Merck manufactured Johnson and Johnson vaccine. The government of India took several months to do the same. Only recently, the centre facilitated the manufacture of Covaxin developed by Bharat biotech at three of the domestic public sector companies.
Vaccine nationalism needs to be abhorred. But, no nation can export vaccines at the cost of its vaccination program. But, the centre decided to export 64 million doses even when the fear of deadly second wave was hanging over the nation. A false sense of triumphalism contributed to this irrational policy. The government of India has imposed export curbs only after the daily new cases ran into lakhs.
Despite the experience of TablighiJamaat during the very early stage of the pandemic, the central and Uttarakhand state governments allowed over three million to take a holy dip, turning the KumbhMela into a possible super spreader. Finally, Prime Minister intervened, rather very late to virtually call off the Kumbh. Early decision in this regard would have been an effective public health measure. Prime Minister took pride in the massive mobilization of people for the Bengal election meetings. The Election Commission of India and the centre refused to heed to the sensible suggestion to cut short the protracted multi-phased assembly election in West Bengal. Thus, belated measures of the Modi government failed to stem the pandemic tide.