Covid-19: What you need to know today
It’s January 2, 2021, the vaccine is here, and it’s time for this column, which began on March 19, 2020, to end.
The Subject Expert Committee (SEC) of the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) has recommended that emergency use approval be granted to Covishield, the name given to the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine by the Serum Institute of India (SII), which is making it in India, paving the way for its approval by the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI).
This approval is a mere formality. India now has a vaccine, and it could start vaccinating the 300 million people in its primary priority groups as early as next week. It hopes to achieve that target by July.
The Covid-19 pandemic started slow in India. The country didn’t register what everyone (including the managers of the HT dashboard) counts as its first case till early March (three returnees from Wuhan tested positive in late January, but there were no cases between then and early March). India went in for a hard lockdown from March 25, a day when it registered 90 new cases, taking its total to 657 cases, with 11 deaths.
The lockdown would go on for 68 days, although some restrictions were eased in phases in between, and the number of cases continued to rise through it. When it ended, on May 31, India’s dashboard showed a total of 190,533 cases and 5,328 deaths. The number of cases soared after that, reaching its peak on September 10, when, according to the HT dashboard, the country registered 99,181 new cases. I remember writing then that it was only a matter of time before India started seeing at least 100,000 new cases a day.
I was wrong (thankfully)! The number of cases started falling. Around Diwali, it looked like India was nearing the end of its first wave; but soon after the festival, the number of cases started rising and I wrote about an imminent second wave. I was wrong (thankfully), again! My colleague, Kunal Pradhan, who has edited more of these columns than anybody else, has kept me informed about Indian cricketers who scored famous Test hundreds that matched the column number (he started doing this after I crossed 100 columns), and like anyone who has scored 238, I have played and missed a few times. For the benefit of those who want to know, he couldn’t recall anyone who scored 238, although Google informs me that this is the number of Test centuries scored at Lord’s.
India’s approval of a vaccine comes even as the seven-day average of daily cases has fallen to 19,828, and the number of active cases in the country is 255,584, the lowest since July 5, according to the HT dashboard. The Wall Street Journal ran a piece recently attributing this to the wearing of masks, but as anyone who has travelled even briefly to rural India knows that most people there do not wear masks. I took the day off on December 31 and went on a dawn-to-dusk birding expedition in rural Haryana, and can vouch for this. It isn’t just Haryana; on a trip to Uttarakhand in late October that took me through Uttar Pradesh, I saw that very few people in small towns in India’s most populous state were sporting masks.
So, why have India’s numbers fallen? In Dispatch 226, on December 16, I put forth some theories; the truth is simply that no one really knows – but we aren’t complaining. If India can get its vaccination drive going soon, and build some momentum into it – drives in many other countries have run into delays – and if the numbers continue to stay low (for whatever reason), the country will likely escape a second wave.
HT will maintain a dashboard of the vaccination drive, and report on it from the ground, but I had always told myself that this column would end the day India approved a vaccine.
The fortuitous timing of that approval, on the first day of a new year that we all hope will be better than the one gone by, means Dispatch 238, dated January 2, will be the last edition of this column.