With the upsurge of COVID-19 cases in Mumbai, there is an urgent need to revert to the ways in which the pandemic was tackled last year. However, instead of shutting down the entire city (which will have substantial economic implications), it would perhaps be a better solution to isolate those pockets where the cases are rising rapidly.
After identification, those places should be immediately shut down, and compulsory testing can be re-introduced in those areas so that the spreaders can be identified. We still have enough jumbo facilities to accommodate COVID-19 positive patients; therefore, that shouldn’t be a problem. If we rigorously keep at it for the next 15 days or a month, with simultaneous vaccination happening, the numbers would definitely come down in Mumbai.
In this dire situation, the only silver lining is that currently, the fatality rates of COVID positive patients are low, and testing, especially in states like Maharashtra, has been very open and easily accessible since day one. However, in the case of Mumbai, what has perhaps been the biggest let down to a very well-guided and careful re-opening of the city by the state government is the complacency of the Mumbaikars. Most people have stopped wearing masks or are not wearing them correctly. People think they are back to old times, and crowding bus stops, train stations as well as vaccination centres is okay. However, it is not okay to get the virus while going to get vaccinated, and they should keep in mind that just because they have had one shot, it doesn’t mean they are immune to the virus already. This is where I think the city authorities should step up and fine those who are not following COVID-19 protocols, and enforce the existing rules strictly.
In my opinion, the vaccination process should definitely not open for everyone as of now because if it does, there will be complete mayhem. People who really need the vaccine will not get it. So, it is essential to prioritize it for the people who are more vulnerable to the disease.
However, while the government of India has prioritized the vaccination of those 45 years and above with comorbidities, there are other important groups of people who can also be included in the process. For instance, people who are obese should also get the vaccine. Worldwide data suggest that people who are obese are most prone to develop ill-effects of the coronavirus. Therefore, there is a need to include them, as well as other groups.
It is also important to help people access the vaccine easily. Once the 24*7 vaccination, which recently began in Maharashtra, takes off, the vaccine distribution process will get much more manageable. In my opinion, the morning slots should be kept exclusively for people above the age of 60. Forty-five and above with comorbidities should be given the next slot, and those who are severely sick—for instance, people living with cancer—should be given a separate cell to go and get vaccinated.
A similar process has been introduced at H.N. Reliance Foundation Hospital and Research Centre, where we have come up with the Jio Health Hub app, which helps people book an appointment for vaccination and pick a time slot of their liking, thereby allowing them to avoid the crowd. After one register, s/he can get their certificate and notifications online as well.
By the time we can see the impact of the ongoing vaccination drive, it will be another three months. However, the most important thing is that no study has yet proven that those vaccinated cannot be carriers. If one takes the vaccine, it reduces the fatality rate rather than lowering the infection’s spreading. To ensure an individual is not spreading the virus, s/he must follow the COVID-19 protocols.
(As told to Simantini Dey)