India must learn from China’s Covid-19 management fiasco

Women in science, covid-19
The government must avoid temptation to end Covid-19 vaccination programme and call all clear on the pandemic threat.

A new report has called on the Union government to declare that the Covid-19 threat is over and suggested that booster doses and precautionary doses of coronavirus vaccines are unnecessary. It says those who have already been infected should not be given further vaccine doses. The report by a joint task force of medical experts from three leading health organisations says the government must vaccinate only those who have never been infected by Covid-19 and those suffering with comorbidities.

It says the focus of the health system should be shifted to more pressing health issues. Despite the semblance of normalcy on the Covid-19 pandemic front, India should not lower the guard, especially after the disaster being witnessed in China due to the mismanagement of the pandemic situation.

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The report by a team of experts from Indian Public Health Association, Indian Association of Preventive and Social Medicine and Indian Association of Epidemiologists has urged the government to declare that the pandemic threat is over. The report recommends that mechanisms should be put in place to prevent misuse of Covid-19 or any similar disease by the pharmaceutical and medical companies while reassuring common citizens that the pandemic is well past its expiry date.

In India, the threat of non-communicable diseases and other ailments such as malaria, HIV, malnutrition pose much bigger challenge to the government than the coronavirus. The report must be read in the context of that. While COVID-19 was indeed a menace to the healthcare, the nation also grapples from other issues so attention must be directed to that as well.

In India, nearly 58 lakh people die from NCDs (heart and lung diseases, stroke, cancer and diabetes) every year or in other words 1 in 4 Indians has a risk of dying from an NCD before they reach the age of 70, according to report by WHO.

The Covid-19 horror show in China

The recommendations must be read in the light of what has unfolded in China in the aftermath of its government lifted the stringent coronavirus restrictions. The report calls for declaring an end to the pandemic, a strategy that didn’t work well for China and resulted in a heavy death toll. The situation in the northern neighbour is as bad as it can get. In fact, the country has also put the rest of the world in danger as chances of fresh Covid variants emerging from China are high.

For one, China didn’t properly vaccinate the rural and elderly population which means a sudden surge in cases that overstretched the country’s healthcare system. When India is put in the same condition, one can only imagine the horror in store for a country which has a poor public healthcare infrastructure and a dismal doctor to patient ratio. The coverage of Covid vaccine booster shots was extremely low (40%) among people above 80 years when China lifted the restrictions. The booster coverage is just around 69% for the population above 60 years. Furthermore, vaccines developed by other nations are unavailable in China.

Secondly, the country did not take proactive measures to inform its citizens about the looming dangers of the pandemic and abruptly stopped all pandemic-related restrictions as a desperate measure to kick start the economy. In the aftermath of the rollback of the zero-covid policy, China is reporting mass deaths, despite the fact that the data is unreliable.

Even though the roll back of the zero-Covid policy was highly anticipated, there is no plausible explanation as to why the Chinese Communist Party leadership put an abrupt end to it and pushing the global economy into another crisis. The new outbreak not only threatens the world which is already facing a full-blown global recession and sticky inflation, but also amplifies the failure of the Chinese government. Chinese capital Beijing is currently experiencing a spurt in omicron infections that threaten to sweep the world’s most populous country. The scared citizens are indulging in panic buying of food and medicines. The abrupt deactivation of the Covid-19 tracking app also meant lack of quality data on infections.

If the findings of the report are indeed true, and naturally infected people indeed develop immunity against reinfection, it will save the government extra spending on Covid control and provide relief to the already stretched healthcare system. However, the government needs to take extra caution while changing its current policy that relies heavily on vaccination to stop the deadly infection.