This past weekend, the global death toll from coronavirus topped the three million mark, a devastating milestone accumulated over the past 14 months as nations the world over grappled with this unprecedented public health crisis of modern times. And nowhere has the death toll surged as much in recent weeks than in India — posing a pressing and immediate challenge to government, medical teams and people at every level of society.
New Delhi and other cities entered a weekend lockdown on Saturday as more than 260,000 daily coronavirus cases were reported across India — double the number of infections seen just a week ago. That is a rate of infection that needs to be stemmed. The sudden surge has left hospitals struggling for resources and patients desperate to receive the necessary level of care in overstretched intensive care units and in other wards.
This is a health care emergency of a huge magnitude. Medical officials across India have been sending out distress messages that they are at breaking point. The Indian media talks of ‘a collapse in the health system’ and ‘a major national health crisis’.
World over, medical experts and public health officials have proven time and time again that the way to stop the virus spread is to temper it with social distancing, wearing masks and keeping apart — and following good hand and personal hygiene at all times.
In recent weeks as cases have begun to climb rapidly, officials have appealed people to wear masks and limit their contact as much as possible with others. And yes, that is advice that must be followed immediately as a first step in coming to grips with this new wave.
There is no doubt that India has the expertise, technical ability and medical know-how to curb these numbers — other nations have shown that taking strict measures work, giving medical facilities a bit of relief and the opportunity to break the chain of infections. Vaccinations also are a line of defence that are key. There is a need to speed up the vaccination drive and the authorities must ensure that this is done immediately and effectively.
Certainly, India has the ability to produce enough vaccines for everyone, and engaging in a national mobilisation effort will ensure this pandemic can be defeated. The government of India must ensure that Covid protocols are followed and the vicious cycle of deadly infections is broken.
Until that happens, every Indian has an important part to play to help the country overcome this crisis. As we have learnt during this pandemic, and this needs retelling: There is no alternative to avoiding social contact for now and staying apart. This is a time to follow instructions, avoid crowds, mask up and stay alert.