Last year, during the first wave of COVID-19, the government was active but despite the precarious and volatile situation during the second wave, the governments’ response was cold. Not even panchayat level bodies are active and only healthcare seems to be struggling to control the outburst of the second wave of COVID-19, said D Kumar of Kollegal, Karnataka. Since March 2021 the country has been witnessing one of the most horrific times of recent history. If the government’s figures are to be believed, as of 22 July 2021 3.13 crore people have been infected, and 4.19 lakh people have lost their lives. The country was in shambles in terms of medical and oxygen supply, critical health care infrastructures such as oxygen beds, and Intensive Care Units. People died on the streets and outside of hospitals. Crematorium and graveyards were full and some even had long queues and dead bodies being flushed in the river. People were not even able to say a final goodbye to their loved ones. When all this was happening and every part of the country was struggling to survive, the state machinery was largely absent. Since the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the Indian shore in March 2020, lack of preparedness has been the hallmark of the current regime. Visuals of migrant workers leaving cities due to the fear of uncertainty are still afresh in the minds of the people. The migrant crisis was not a reflection of the only failure of policy interventions but a lack of empathy for those who build and run the cities.
Karnataka was no different, said Kumar. The state has 28 lakhs COVID-19 cases and more than 36 thousand people have lost their lives. Even on 20 July 2021, the state reported 1290 COVID-19 cases and 40 deaths. The government is now setting up the task force at the panchayat level that includes ASHA workers, Anganwadi workers, and police officials. A critical step, Kumar feels that has been delayed unnecessarily. Kumar further adds that, unlike urban pockets, villages are being ignored. People who have been tested positive are asked to remain isolated in their homes. People died in my area due to a shortage of oxygen. The government negligence or incompetence was on display in the district. Hospitals were and still are poorly managed. Village level health centers are not equipped to even test COVID cases. For testing, one needs to visit Primary Health Care Centers and block-level health care centers which are 10-15 kilometers away from villages. For treatment of COVID-19 cases, the struggle becomes even worse if not impossible. Hospitals are situated 40 kilometers away from the villages and that too was running out of beds.
The fear of the third wave of COVID-19 is staring us. The experts have been repeatedly suggesting the government accelerate vaccination drives to reduce the devastation of the virus. Kumar said that the unavailability of the vaccines is real. Even in Kumar’s vicinity, people are struggling to get vaccinated. Of the more than 4.9 crore people, above the age of 18 years who are eligible for the jab, only 45 percent have received the first jab. The state has only vaccinated 54 lakh, people, fully. The national vaccination drive, which is being celebrated as the largest vaccination drive, is no different from Karnataka. India has only vaccinated only 6.4 percent of the total population. Along with the shortage of vaccines, its hesitancy and accessibility are playing a critical role around the drive. People from the urban pockets are better placed in terms of Internet connectivity and access to smartphones, hence securing the jabs. Kumar said that we, teams of DEF, are trying to help people in registering for vaccines and create awareness about the same, but private hospitals are charging substantial amounts which is difficult to pay for the marginalized sections of society. If the situation of COVID-19 prolongs, along with health, the economic crisis will further deteriorate. The COVID-19 lockdown imposed to curb the infection has impacted almost every section of the society but certainly, the impact has been felt more by agricultural and migrant laborers. Kumar said that in villages people are struggling to secure meals for their families and are forced to take debts. The state needs to accelerate vaccination drives, awareness campaigns to reduce the hesitancy around it and move in the right direction to improve economic activities.