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Once again, the number of covid cases seems hell-bent on breaking its own record every day. Recently, some pictures from a number of hospitals in Maharashtra went viral, shocking the entire nation. Is it going to be our turn tomorrow? One thing is for sure, painful days are here again.

This second wave of covid is more lethal than the first. Have a look at the data from the year-ago period. There was lockdown everywhere. In April 2020, the sum total of those infected by covid was only around 30,000, but the fear was so much that people had started to return to their villages, thousands of kilometres away, on foot—the same villages they had once left behind in search of livelihood. They had nothing there except a sense of belonging, but their countrymen gave them more pain than strangers. This is why they returned as soon as they got their first chance. However, migration continues to haunt them even today.

The reason is simple. The infection rate has already crossed the limits of horror. On 11 April 2021, 152,859 people were officially found to be new victims of this infection. The number of those who died in the past 24 hours was 839, taking the total to 169,275. The number of active cases is 11,08,087 (10.8% positivity rate).

In the number of new daily covid cases, we have left the US far behind. If such a situation continues, we may soon surpass Mexico, which is third in terms of number of deaths (209,212).

The situation is worse in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh, where every day a new record is being created. Delhi and Punjab are just a little bit behind. The only relief is that Delhi, West Bengal, Telangana and Jammu and Kashmir are still far behind their previous peaks. The infection rates in Odisha and Assam are less than 10% of their previous maximum levels. Will the situation stay the same for long?

The eight-phase Assembly election process is still on in West Bengal, where all the top leaders are addressing rallies, with huge crowds and no covid protocol. The situation was the same in Assam, where voting ended last week. Every political party claims to be committed to the interest of the common people, then why do these leaders deliberately put voters’ lives in danger? Everybody in our political class is always ready to teach some lessons on responsibility, then why are they so insensitive?

It is true that just eight states account for more than 80% of new covid cases, but it is also true that when air, rail and road traffic continues, there can be no denial of the possibility of infections spreading out. If the Chinese city of Wuhan had been isolated from international air travel at the right time in 2019, the world would not have been caught in such a catastrophe. Will travel prohibitions be back in India in a few days?

State governments are worried, but they are helpless as well. The 68-day lockdown of the previous year had broken the back of the country’s economy. Now, in another long lockdown, the situation may get even worse. This is why Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray, while announcing a night curfew in Mumbai, said that he might take even harsher steps. This warning may be an indication of what the future has in store.

Currently, night curfews or weekly closures have been announced in cities across Delhi, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh. The Allahabad high court has asked the UP government to look into the option of night curfew, and the state government has started following this order. The entire Madhya Pradesh is in the grip of lockdown. Many others may join this trend in the coming days.

One of the problems faced by governments is that people are no longer willing to accept restrictions. The Bihar government had decided to close all schools, colleges and coaching institutes by 11 April. On 5 April, when a police team arrived in Sasaram to close coaching institutes, students attacked them. They argued that if the coronavirus does not spread through election rallies, then how can it spread through coaching institutes? The next day, owners of hotels, resorts and restaurants in Punjab were seen protesting. “If the government can hold political rallies for its survival, then why can’t we run our businesses for the same?" asked Kanwarjeet Singh, a resort owner.

No wonder, migration of labourers from big cities has started again. All trains from Mumbai, Bengaluru and Delhi to Bihar, Jharkhand and eastern Uttar Pradesh are packed. Those who cannot find a place are resorting to road transport. That is why the faces of factory owners have grown pale. They feel that their production would be disrupted again by the exodus of workers. Not only this, the shortage of workforce may result in labour becoming expensive.

It is for sure that the second round of inflation, unemployment and reverse migration is knocking at our doors. It is not just a coincidence that the world food price index has been continuously rising for the past 10 months.

The question is what is to be done in such a situation? The Union government has decided to intensify the vaccination drive, along with restrictions, but it has its own limitations. Despite all efforts by vaccine companies and governments, in the first three months of the vaccination programme, only three states have been able to vaccinate at least 5-5.5% of their population. These are Kerala, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh. Others such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh are not far behind.

Despite this, politicians are still mud-slinging at each other. Even the vaccines are being questioned.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself took command on Thursday. He met the chief ministers, but will this put an end to the political blame game and revitalize the fight against covid?

We have to fight a long battle against covid. Any laxity or negligence, whether on masking up or social distancing, can prove fatal. It all has to be a part of our resolve.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. The views expressed are personal.

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