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Why India can’t afford Europe-style reopening

Of the 12 European countries that have allowed crowds at international sporting events in the past month, nine have given one covid-19 vaccine dose to at least 50% of their population. (AP)Premium
Of the 12 European countries that have allowed crowds at international sporting events in the past month, nine have given one covid-19 vaccine dose to at least 50% of their population. (AP)

High levels of vaccine coverage and low fatalities have allowed European countries to choose an aggressive path to normalcy. Conversely, relatively low levels of vaccine coverage in India means it can’t risk following suit

Be it football, tennis, cycling or motor racing, spectators are again thronging to international sporting events in Europe amid easing covid-19 curbs. Often, without masks and social distancing. On 19 July, the United Kingdom is expected to do away with all covid-19 restrictions, including mandatory mask wearing and social distancing. High levels of vaccine coverage, and low fatalities, is one reason why these European countries are able to choose this aggressive path to normalcy. Conversely, relatively low levels of vaccine coverage in India means it can’t risk following suit.

Of the 12 European countries that have allowed crowds at international sporting events in the past month, nine have given one covid-19 vaccine dose to at least 50% of their population. Further, at least 33% of their population is fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data. Excluding the population below 18 years, which is less at risk, these numbers would be higher. By comparison, India’s numbers read 21% and 5%, respectively. At its current vaccination pace, India will reach 50% coverage for one dose in November 2021 and 33% coverage for two doses in May 2022.

Some of these countries are recording significant, and rising, numbers of new cases. Notably the UK, Spain and Russia. Even the World Health Organization has warned against speedy reopenings. But other than in Russia and Romania, new deaths are less than one-tenth of their respective peaks. In India, it’s currently about one-fifth.

India stands up to European countries on population-adjusted numbers. But India’s large population means its latest absolute numbers still make for uncomfortable reading.

Fewer Jabs

India’s pace of vaccination had accelerated when the Centre on 21 June took the vaccine reins back from the states. In the first seven days of that new dispensation, India’s daily average of vaccine doses doubled to 6.1 million. In the past seven days, however, it has fallen to 4.2 million. The slowdown is across the board.

Of the 36 states and union territories, 29 saw a drop in weekly doses. Among major states, the largest weekly drops were seen in Chhattisgarh (65%), Himachal Pradesh (61%) and Tripura (61%).

Himachal Pradesh remains the leader in cumulative vaccinations (552 doses per 1,000 people). It is followed by Delhi (455), Gujarat (428), Uttarakhand (427), and Kerala (424). All these states have been among the leaders since early-April and saw a decline this week. Jammu Kashmir (368) is the only state to show a consistent increase in pace in the past 3 weeks.

District Warnings

Meanwhile, concerns about a third wave striking India remain. The decline in new cases appears to be stemming. More districts are progressively reporting a week-on-week increase in new cases: from 110 two weeks ago to 141 districts last week to 156 this week. At the same time, the number of districts reporting above 1,000 new weekly cases has fallen from 77 to 63. Only Kolhapur in Maharashtra and Malappuram in Kerala reported above 10,000 new weekly cases.

For the third consecutive week, Kerala led all states in new cases. Along with the eight north-eastern states, Kerala’s count of weekly cases exceeds that in the first week of April, when the second wave began. There are nine districts to report an increase in cases in each of the past four weeks. The highest rise was seen in Kerala’s Kasargod and Wayanad, and Assam’s Golaghat. All three districts are still reporting above 2,000 weekly cases each. Assam imposed full lockdowns in 7 districts including Golaghat on Tuesday.

Managing Fatalities

The decline in covid-19 deaths in India continues. Last week’s tally of 5,568 is about one-fourth of what it was four weeks ago. However, as with new cases, the decline appears to be stemming. Among the top 10 states with the highest caseload, deaths in Kerala, Maharashtra, Manipur and Odisha increased slightly.

Four districts, all from Maharashtra, reported above 150 deaths in the past week: Pune, Sangli, Raigarh, and Kolhapur. Among them, Pune and Sangli are the only districts in the country to have reported above 300 deaths. Sangli’s death toll has increased 159% from last week’s 122.

The European nations that are reopening aggressively are doing so on the premise of needing fewer hospitalisations and controlling fatalities, aided by the protective shield of vaccines. How India progresses on vaccines will be a major factor in dodging a potential third wave and the manner of returning to normalcy.

(howindialives.com is a database and search engine for public data)

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