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The 'Chinese' origin COVID-19 has affected almost everybody in the world. The cries of families that have lost loved ones have not yet subsided; the heavy rush in crematoriums and subsequent dumping of bodies in the river waters are instances hard to forget.
Even as the cases are now going down, and we heave a sigh of relief, it is not the time to let our shields down just yet. If we do this, the catastrophe that would occur will wipe out more than the peak of the second wave.
The first wave caught us by surprise, and hence, we lost lives. However, the second wave was warned about well in time by the experts. Local and national leaders publicly held election rallies and declared victory while we had just touched the tip of the iceberg.
Authorities must prepare for the inevitable third wave by strengthening the health infrastructure and enforcing COVID mandated protocols like physical distancing, double masking and regular sanitization.
The authorities should start preparing for the inevitable third wave on a war footing. Testing and surveillance must not come down now that things are slowly treading towards normalcy. There is also an urgent requirement of regular genome sequencing to keep the mutations in check. After the ease in restrictions by various state governments, the possible lack of vigilance can successively become an eyesore.
After the first wave, public transportation was cramped with people. India is known worldwide for its extravagance in religious worshipping; true to that, we left no stone unturned to please our Gods. All this happened when doctors from across the country took to social media requesting citizens to stay home and exercise maximum precaution.
In a country that houses more than 130 crore people, attaining herd immunity would take years at a stretch. According to a report by Business Today, India will take another eight years and nine months to vaccinate 70 per cent of the population at the current rate of vaccination.
The report added that nearly 11 per cent of the people had been administered the first dose of the COVID 19 vaccine as of April 2021. At the same time, the second dose has only reached a mere 8 per cent. Apart from the delay of vaccine administration, there was a grave concern of vaccine hesitancy, especially in rural India.
The report also mentioned, "To administer the first shot to the entire population, it would take one year and 11 months. Administering both doses to the entire population would require 12 years and six months."
The economic crisis lingering in a majority of the population makes access to the vaccine a severe problem. COVID induced lockdown left the middle class and the poor gasping for breath. Thousands of people lost jobs, several medium and small enterprises shut down due to lack of business, and everyone was left locked up inside their homes. To top it all, vaccine hesitancy, especially in rural India, is a significant hindrance. It is a complex situation influenced by complacency, people's convenience and confidence in the issuing authority.
Awareness campaigns have proved to be a success in India; polio eradication was the result of one! Therefore, intensive awareness campaigns by celebrities and local leaders can help people accept the urgency. Campaigns would help reduce the stigma of the virus, which would push people to reach out for healthcare.
Mass testing and vaccinating drives free of charge in small villages are imperative, as most people do not have the finances to get a dose. Apart from that, some people want to get vaccinated but cannot, owing to the digital divide. People in smaller towns and backward regions are not used to using gadgets. Therefore, they cannot even register themselves for a vaccine slot.
Education has now moved online. The significance of volunteering for vaccination should be emphasized by the teachers to push their parents to volunteer for a dose. The menace of a massive shortage of vaccination should be solved immediately. The government should ensure that the second doses are available for immediate disposal.
Even though some experts suggest that the third wave of Coronavirus is unlikely to be as deadly as the second one, the most vulnerable to the virus have not yet been administered even one dose of the vaccine. Children below 18 years of age and pregnant women are at the highest risk of contracting the virus.
The study titled 'Plausibility of the third wave of COVID-19 in India: A mathematical modelling based analysis', demonstrates plausible mechanisms by which a substantial third wave could occur. The ICMR study mentioned that there are two mechanisms where a severe third wave is possible.
Firstly, it is a new variant that is more transmissible and is also capable of escaping prior immunity and second, when lockdowns are highly effective in limiting transmission and subsequently released. The virus has already mutated several times. The latest variants of the virus are airborne and fatal. The B.1.617.2 or the Delta Plus variant that was first seen in India has already shocked the Asia Pacific region.
Acute shortages of oxygen, life-saving drugs and hospital beds are embarrassing features of how India handled the second wave. It was awful to see states fighting amongst themselves and the Centre for an increased supply of primary healthcare facilities. It is pitiful for any government to downplay the number of deaths due to faulty policies.
The difference between official figures of death and the actual number of fatalities is astonishing. The government should own up to what went wrong and make sure that past mistakes do not guide future decisions. A lot has previously been lost, but more can still be saved.
Hopefully, the tragedy has left us with some lessons that will not be forgotten anytime soon.
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