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Difficult Decision

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Cabinet Minister Harak Singh Rawat has come out in favour of enforcing a lockdown in Uttarakhand to stem the ongoing Covid surge. This followed on his experiencing difficulty in obtaining hospital admission for an ailing relative. The statistics are undoubtedly grim, with fatalities hitting record highs. It is feared that shortage of oxygen might also occur in the state’s hospitals should the present trend continue. The fatalities are happening just as much due to oxygen shortage as complications from the infection. On the other hand, it has already been established that lockdowns do not provide a permanent solution – radical change in behaviour during ‘normal’ times is necessary. Even the ongoing vaccination drive will kick in only after several months. The only silver lining at the present is that vaccine hesitancy has decreased considerably.

The oxygen shortage is being addressed in several ways – by speeding up the supply chain, opening up of new manufacturing units by several stakeholders (including the latest announcement on the PM CARES Fund paying for 551 plants), assistance from foreign countries, etc. The same is the case with supply of necessary drugs and equipment, as well as setting up of centres for Covid patients. It takes time for the system to respond to sudden challenges, but India has already shown that it is up to the task.

As a former COAS has stated, when action has to be performed it does not help to be disturbed by constant disturbances. The entire nation has to single-mindedly focus on the task at hand. Constant nit-picking on how things are being done is self-defeating. Self-appointed advisors, for instance, are making an entire range of demands – from vaccines to be provided free to leaving it for market forces to decide. First it was about providing the Rs 3000 crores needed by a vaccine manufacturer to expand capacity – now that the issue has been resolved it is about why prices have been raised.

Had the Prime Minister even suggested before the ongoing elections that these be postponed there would have been hell to pay. Now, he is being pilloried for having taken vigorous part in them. Even as the pandemic has made a sudden comeback, it must not be forgotten that the ultimate goal remains getting the economy and people’s livelihoods back on track. This needs to be considered before planning a lockdown across India or in Uttarakhand. The golden mean has to be found between making a living and fighting the virus.