The government machinery got its act together right in the days of the first wave by boosting its PPE kits and mask manufacturing to become self-reliant and carried the same efficiency when the second and more intense wave was upon the country. Nikita Shastri outlines the trajectory, describing how the challenges posed by the shortage of oxygen and vaccination were overcome with prudent measures and sound logistics with marked emphasis on ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’.
At a time when most countries were returning to normalcy after months of battle with Covid-19, India, after having recovered from the first wave successfully, had to fasten its seatbelt one more time to fight the second wave. And, it did so with conviction and determination!
The first wave of the coronavirus infection was marked by the national lockdown where the essential service providers and frontline workers emerged as Covid heroes. Doctors, nurses, medical personnel, policemen, delivery personnel, postmen, grocers and vegetable vendors even watchmen had continued to work as most of the country stayed in the safe confines of their homes.
Making steady progress
In the initial days of the Covid-19 crisis in India, the shortage of PPE kits, masks and other medical essentials soon turned around when India swiftly boosted manufacturing and with a span of weeks became an exporter of PPE kits and masks. In March 2020, the export of the kits and other protective equipment was banned to ensure enough supplies for domestic needs. In July 2020, domestic manufacturers had exported 23 lakh personal protection equipment (PPE) kits to five foreign nations when the government allowed sale of such medical coverall to foreign entities. The country was steadily recovering from the pandemic that was set to accelerate when the vaccination drive began on 16 January 2021. Different categories of professionals were roped in for the drive and, for that purpose, 2,360 Master Trainers, 61,000 Programme Managers, 2 lakh Vaccinators, 3.7 lakh other Vaccination Team Members had been trained before the drive began.
The first phase of the vaccination was conducted for approximately one crore healthcare workers and two crore frontline workers – police, paramilitary forces, sanitation workers and disaster management volunteers — from both public and private sectors.The second phase began on 1 March 2021 for senior citizens i.e. those above 60 years of age and people above 45 years with comorbidities. With the second phase, online registration through Aarogya Setu app and Co-WIN began too.
By March 2021, India had also exported a significant number of doses and 60 million doses were dispatched to 76 countries. Starting 1 April 2021, all citizens above the age of 45 were permitted to get the vaccine. On 19 April, the next phase of vaccination was announced that would immunise citizens above the age of 18 from 1 May 2021 onward.It was an enormous challenge to vaccinate a population of the size of India in an efficient, uninterrupted and ‘safe’ manner.
Overcoming vaccination challenges
Till 4 June 2021 that happens to be the 140th day of the vaccination programme in India, a total of 33,57,713 vaccine doses were administered. This included 31,01,109 beneficiaries who had received their first dose and 2,56,604 who had taken the second dose as well.The cumulative number of Covid-19 vaccine doses administered in the country exceeded 22.75 Cr (22,75,67,873) as per the 7 pm provisional report by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare released on the day.
During the vaccination drive there were some hiccups such as shortage of vaccines, lapses in distribution by the state government, etc. At the same time when private sector was roped in for vaccination, not only did the vaccine cost shot up drastically, at some places there was a shortage owing to hoarding and mismanagement.
So, in a pro-people move, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on 7 June 2021 that the central government would purchase Covid-19 vaccines and supply to the state governments at no cost. At the same time, the cost for a vaccine dose was capped and the service charge of vaccination that is charged above the price of the vaccine in private hospitals cannot exceed Rs 150.
Tackling the second wave
In was in February this year when a slight bump in the Covid-19 cases trajectory in Punjab and Maharashtra turned into a constant and soon enough heralded the second wave of Covid-19 infection. Even as the vaccination programme was underway in the country, the second wave came in fast and very strong, far worse than the first one.
In mid-April, states such as Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Punjab, and Maharashtra displayed an alarming rise in Covid-19 fatality rates. Punjab’s seven-day average of daily cases were the highest in the country at the time as it went up 509 per cent from the trough after the first wave, nearly eight times the national average. Even Maharashtra witnessed a rise of 331 per cent from its post-peak low seen for the week ending 11 February 2021.
The second wave also created a ‘shortage’ of medical oxygen due to the manifold rise in oxygen demand for treatment of patients. Even then, India was producing sufficient oxygen to meet the needs but a shortage of oxygen carrying tankers and the overwhelming logistics created a shortage for some time.
Government machineries came together
Several government departments from the Ministry of Health, Power, Railways, Steel, etc. came together and in a first-of-its-kind collaboration, undertook several key measures in May 2021 ‘to increase the availability, streamline the distribution and strengthen the oxygen storage infrastructure in the country. Oxygen production increased from 5,700 MT/day in August 2020 to 9,446 MT/day in May 2021.
The PM CARES Fund accorded sanction for the procurement of 1,50,000 units of ‘Oxycare’ system developed by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) at a cost of Rs 322.5 crore.
Between 27 April 2021 and 11 May 2021, cumulatively 9,284 oxygen concentrators, 7,033 oxygen cylinders, 19 Oxygen Generation Plants, 5,933 ventilators/Bi PAP were dispatched by the central government to increase the Covid management capacity of states and UTs.
Indian Railways delivered nearly 62,60 MT of LMO (liquid medical oxygen) in more than 396 tankers to various states across the country till 12 May 2021. The Indian Air Force airlifted 403 oxygen containers of 6,856 Metric Tonnes (MT) capacity along with other equipment of 163 MT capacity, in 634 sorties from different parts of the country including Jamnagar, Bhopal, Chandigarh, Ranchi, Agra, Jodhpur, Mumbai, Lucknow, Vijayawada, Dimapur, etc.
Indian Naval Ships, as part of operation ‘Samudra Setu II’ returned home with 260 MT of LMO for direct supply to various states, eight oxygen containers of total capacity 160 MT, approximately 2,600 oxygen filled cylinders and 3,150 empty cylinders for oxygen from Persian Gulf and Southeast Asia in the same period.
Between 3 January 2020 and 16 June 2021, there have been 2,95,70,881 confirmed cases of Covid-19 with 3,77,031 deaths in India according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) data. The United States registered 3,31,51,678 Covid-19 cases and reported 5,94,888 deaths in the same period. It’s important to note that the US population size is a third of that of India’s. The relative Covid-fatality figures in India are far lesser than most advanced nations of the world with better health infrastructure and much lesser population numbers. What India has achieved in terms of managing the Covid-19 crisis is commendable and inspiring.
Apart from a significant push for self-reliance that was initiated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for Atmanirbhar Bharat, India has taken several steps in the right direction to achieve self-reliance in all spheres.