India can avoid Europe’s fate

Reduce the gap between Covishield doses, consider booster doses, and expand the vaccine drive to include children
A health worker collects a swab sample for Covid-19 test, Noida, November 22, 2021 (Sunil Ghosh/HTPhoto) PREMIUM
A health worker collects a swab sample for Covid-19 test, Noida, November 22, 2021 (Sunil Ghosh/HTPhoto)
Updated on Nov 25, 2021 05:52 AM IST
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ByHT Editorial

On Monday, roughly 62% of the nearly 465,000 new cases of Covid-19 in the world came from Europe. The number of new infections in the region has risen 17% week-on week – in France, Spain and Netherlands, this figure is at or over 50%. German chancellor Angela Merkel described the situation as “worse than anything we’ve seen so far” and called for tougher curbs this week, stock markets in the region began to slump as fears of disruptions strengthened, and the threat of new lockdowns sparked protest marches across the region, bringing tens of thousands of people out on to the streets in Vienna, Brussels, Rotterdam and Rome. In some places, scenes turned ugly, prompting the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte to call rowdy demonstrators “idiots.”

There are several ways to read the resurgence in Europe. First, it is unmistakably the result of the Delta variant taking hold – several European nations lifted the remainder of curbs in autumn after they were put in place when the variant of concern (VOC) began growing over the summer. Second, vaccine hesitancy and waning immunity threaten to turn the clock back to pre-vaccine scenarios when lockdowns were unavoidable. Third, reopening and holiday season behaviour are dormant threats that can ignite new outbreaks at any time. But, most crucially, the most significant lesson is that the pandemic is far from over and no country can afford to think otherwise. The World Health Organization has said another 500,000 people in Europe could die of Covid-19 by March next year unless urgent action is taken.

In all of these lie crucial lessons for India, which finds itself in the same position it did a year ago: The outbreak has receded, cities have opened up, the big festival season is over and the nation is preparing for a major round of elections. Now, at least 80% of the eligible adult population has received at least one shot of a Covid-19 vaccine. This statistic is surely a reason for some respite. But latest government figures also suggest a significant worry: Uptake has plateaued. As on November 23, there were 219.2 million unutilised doses. The time may now be right for the government to take corrective action: Reduce the gap between doses (in case of Covishield), consider booster doses for the most vulnerable, and expand the vaccine drive to include children. The three factors hold the key for India to avoid Europe’s fate.

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Thursday, December 09, 2021