The relentless attack on the Centre by the opposition for alleged mismanagement of the Covid-19 crisis occupied a large space in the media since the beginning of the second wave. While the common man grappled for hospital beds and medical oxygen, the states and opposition preferred indulging in a blame game rather than adopting a solution-oriented strategy. After the Centre being blamed for ‘dropping the ball on Covid preparedness,’ Union Minister Prakash Javadekar in an exclusive write-up at the Indian Express said the allegation is ‘far from the truth.’
Covid preparedness by the Centre
Narrating the Centre’s approach right from the beginning of 2021, Prakash Javadekar revealed that the Centre on January 06 had written to the Kerala state government urging to take immediate steps as the new cases had begun to surge. To follow it up with concrete actions, a high-level central team was sent to the state to support its efforts.
Refuting claims of the Centre adopting a dawdle approach to the upcoming second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, Javadekar straightened the record by informing that the central government had been proactive in Covid management with national-level coordination.
The Minister also highlighted that despite health being a state subject, the Union health ministry consistently monitored case trends, evaluated states’ preparedness, provided technical expertise, and oversaw the formulation of state and district-level response strategies.
Clarifying that the Centre did not restrict itself to just issuing guidelines, Prakash Javadekar informed that more than 75 high-level teams comprising central government bureaucrats and public health experts had been deployed across various states since September 2020.
What was the purpose of these teams? It was to ensure that their feedback reduced the information asymmetry between the Centre and states and help identify key gaps in states’ preparedness and response strategies.
Did the Centre ignore the warnings of the second wave?
When the sudden surge in new coronavirus cases took the nation by surprise, several state authorities chose to fire-fight the damage caused to their reputation rather than the crisis itself.
Prakash Javadekar said, “On February 21, when the daily case count was below 13,000, the Union health ministry noted sharp inter-state variations in trends. Immediately, a letter was sent to states like Chhattisgarh, Kerala and Maharashtra, which were witnessing a spike in cases. High-level central teams for monitoring and assisting state governments were announced on February 24 for the states and UT witnessing a surge — Maharashtra, Kerala, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab, Karnataka Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, and Jammu and Kashmir.”
Saying that the states undermined the gravity of the situation, “Throughout March, the Centre actively monitored the spread of infections in these states, engaging with state governments, reviewing their response measures, and ensuring compliance with the reports prepared by central teams. If these states had taken the Centre’s early warnings and feedback more seriously, the current surge would not have been as fierce,” Javadekar added.
The states and the opposition not just tried hard to brush their mismanagement under the carpet, but also targeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi for allegedly declaring ‘victory’ over the corona crisis.
Putting things into perspective, Javadekar reiterated Prime Minister Modi’s message to the Chief Ministers in a meeting chaired on March 17.
“Most of the Covid-affected countries in the world have suffered many waves. In our country also, there has been a sudden increase in cases in some states after decline… We have also noticed that the positivity rate in Maharashtra and MP is very high and there is a rise in the number of cases, also…This time, cases are rising in many areas and districts which were unaffected so far. In a way, they were safe zones, but now fresh cases are emerging. In the last few weeks, this increase is more than 150 per cent in 70 districts of the country. If we don’t stop the pandemic in its tracks, the situation can lead to a country-wide outbreak. We must immediately stop this emerging ‘second peak’. I think it is necessary now that difficulties in governance at the local level should be looked into, reviewed and resolved. Our confidence should not become over-confidence and our success should not turn into negligence,” was the Prime Minister’s message.
How prepared was the Centre for the second wave?
The Union Minister specified that the Centre had already anticipated the second wave and had deployed more than 50 teams in the worst-affected districts across the country, to assist state governments in containment and surveillance measures.
He added that the Centre reviewed action plans of almost 200 high-focus districts between March 27 and April 15. As new challenges emerged, the Minister informed that the Government of India deployed a multi-pronged strategy to deal with the ongoing crisis.
“Contrary to the misinformation, the central government was simultaneously dealing with all these aspects of pandemic management,” said Javadekar brushing off every claim of mismanagement and failure in handling the Covid-19 pandemic by the Centre.
From sending approval letters to states for enhancing medical oxygen capacities using PM Cares Fund in January to making available 9000 tonnes of oxygen a day within a month, it is imperative to analyze every step taken by the Centre as well as the states to form a formidable opinion on the handling of the coronavirus pandemic.