In his address to the nation Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought to assure citizens that in the war against the relentless second wave, all efforts should be attuned to ensure that there is only a minimum impact on the livelihoods of people. That everything would be done to “save the country” from a lockdown and states should use it as a “last resort”. The message has gone through — already several states have rolled out their versions of a lockdown: Night-time curfew, curbs on weekend, limits on movement during the day. How effective that is against a steadily climbing wave and whether harsher curbs are needed will only be known in the days to come.
What is staring in all faces, however, is how the second wave has exposed the glaring inadequacy of health infrastructure in the country. Not only in remote rural pockets but in the heart of the national capital, New Delhi, and financial capital Mumbai. From shortage of medicines and beds to oxygen supplies and testing facilities — all basic Covid-care necessities that were flagged by the empowered groups set up more than one year ago. A just-in-time approach to replenishing oxygen supplies at hospitals will endanger lives. If transporting oxygen across state lines is proving to be a logistical challenge, then governments must quickly work out the modalities involved. The vicious cycle of supply-demand mismatches, panic and hoarding needs to be broken. India Inc, which stepped up to the plate in the first phase, needs to pitch in again, aggressively.
On the vaccine front, the opening up has raised several new challenges. The bizarre dual pricing of a public good — Covishield at Rs 150 for the Centre and Rs 400 for the states — is set to sharpen conflict between the states and the Centre. The lack of clarity on vaccine procurement days before the May 1 ramp-up needs to be addressed. Cash-strapped state governments are worried how they would compete with open-market players in sourcing the vaccines. The impact of the measures recently announced to boost domestic production, which should ideally have come months ago, will show up with a lag. To what extent imports can bridge the gap in the interim is debatable. This continuing health uncertainty will have grave consequences for the economy. Production will be hit as restrictions are imposed, and both consumption and investment decisions by households and firms will be postponed. Analysts have already begun paring down their forecasts for growth this year. Because for all the talk of a no-lockdown, no demand or economic activity will revive if the Covid curve doesn’t begin to bend.