Being Wise After The Event

Editorial

From its very onset the Covid-19 infection, and later pandemic, has played out on a matrix of uncertainties which one could say was hardwired into it. After all, even after the WHO visit to Wuhan a whole year into the epidemic, its exact origin has still not been determined with any degree approximating certainty. Was themission doomed to fail from the start? After all, it was clearly impossible for the WHO team to travel back in time and inspect let alone gather original evidence. So, the jury is still out – in other words, uncertainty still prevails as to where the Covid-19 came from.

The story repeats with all the other aspects of the pandemic as it relentlessly made its way to affect all countries in the world. It was evolving as rapidly as it was changing dynamically, so that tracking its path to devising strategies of preventionand control to finding the appropriate treatment(s) were proving to be major challenges for the scientists and health professionals who were working in overdrive to limit spread, reduce severity of the disease and save lives where possible. They are still at it, fighting the same battle but with new and additional challenges.

On top of that the national authorities were faced with overwhelming of their health systems even inthe most developed nations with enormous resources, and equally forging their way to cope with the logistics of providing medicines and equipments for treatment as well as for protection of those working in close contact with patients, and disposing of the mounting numbers of the dead. Mass graves in civilian times in democracies? Who could have imagined that? Yet all this was happening, and still is. Not later than two days ago France was struggling to find place in its ICUs choked with 4000 patients (with 26000 new cases that single day), heliporting others to locations elsewhere including Belgium.

And now to complicate matters, several European countries have declared a stop to theuse of the AstraZeneca vaccine because a few patients suffered from blood clotting. And this is in spite of the EU regulatory body and WHO, as well as other experts, firmly recommending that it is safe to use the vaccine as there is no causal relationship established on the basis of evidence available. One can recall also that stockpiles of AstraZeneca have been lying unused in Germany, and that the US administration has already paid up for an additional 100 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

In this charged atmosphere of handling what is an unprecedented ongoing emergency situation caused by the equally unprecedented complex behaviour of a novel virus of unknown origin, every country has tried to swim against the rolling tides of uncertainties and find some sense of direction based on the best expert advice available, which kept changing save for just one thing: the package of public health measures, which has remained the only constant throughout.

It is quite normal for all citizens to be concerned for themselves and their families, and to want rapid and sure solutions from their governments. But it is not normal for lay people who have no knowledge of the complexities to question the recommendations of recognized bodies such as the WHO and other established regulatory bodies. Worse still is it to spread false information or to compare oranges to apples by contrasting what countries with hugely different resources and demographics were doing. So being wise after the event is not an option in this unbelievably complex scenario.

One aspect in which the government could have done better here is vaccine procurement – and the money was there: the Rs 500 M that were dilapidated on Pack and Blister for defective equipment – they were not ventilators. Much less was required to secure an additional one million vaccine doses from the Serum Institute of India which sold it to the Indian government at Rs 200 Indian per dose. With the help of the Indian government, the one million doses could definitely have been secured, for Rs 100 M, instead of us going with a begging bowl while squandering from the taxpayers’ kitty. And it is still not too late to do that.

And there’s another thing that can be done: vaccinate as many people as possible as soon as possible by working out a new strategy. Concentrate on the quick doables and deliverables to instill trust in the population and get back to normal with their cooperation. That’s the only viable way forward.


* Published in print edition on 16 March 2021

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