Health and Family Welfare Minister Mansukh Mandaviya on Tuesday told the Rajya Sabha that a lot more could have been done to handle the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and a lot more still needed to be done with regard to a potential third wave.
Replying to a discussion on the COVID-19 situation, Mr. Mandaviya countered allegations by some MPs that the Centre was hiding the true data of the number of deaths, saying that the States were responsible for registering deaths. The Centre only compiled the data given by States, he said.
Mr. Mandaviya was replying as Health Minister for the first time since the Cabinet reshuffle earlier this month which saw Dr. Harsh Vardhan dropped.
Listing the efforts taken by the Centre to boost oxygen supply during the second wave, the Minister said oxygen transportation capacity had been boosted to 10,000 metric tonnes.
“This is not a small feat. I admit there was still more to be done and we have to do a lot more in the coming days,” he said, while appealing to everyone to work together.
On vaccinations, the Minister said there were many States that had 10-15 lakh vaccine doses lying unused, while their representatives in the House were asking the Centre to speed up the drive. He said the Centre informs States 15 days in advance of the vaccine availability, giving them time to plan their vaccination drives.
He said it wouldn’t be appropriate to say that children would be more affected in the third wave. On the other hand, he said vaccine trials for children were ongoing.
In response to a question from TMC MP Derek O’Brien, Mr. Mandaviya did not clarify what percentage of the population would be fully vaccinated by December 31, saying instead that the government’s effort would be to vaccinate every Indian as soon as possible.
Earlier, Leader of Opposition Mallikarjun Kharge initiated the discussion on behalf of the Opposition. He said the pictures of bodies floating in the Ganga during the second wave had left an indelible impression. He also accused the government of severely under-reporting the number of casualties due to COVID. As per the official estimate a little over 5.5 lakh persons died due to the pandemic.
“There are more than six lakh villages in India. Even if five persons died in each of these villages due to COVID, the total casualty figure will cross 30 lakh. Similarly there are more than 7,000 towns and 18 metropolitan cities. If the deaths are properly recorded the cumulative figure will far exceed the government’s estimates,” he said.
The government’s declaration that it will vaccinate everyone by December is misplaced, Mr Kharge said, since till now only 5.3% of the total population has received two doses. “On Modiji’s appeal, people clapped, clanged utensils, lit diyas and confined themselves to their homes. What did he do in return? He failed in meeting all our expectations. Instead he sacked Dr Harsh Vardhan, who is merely a scapegoat for PM Modi’s own failures,” Mr Kharge said.
TMC MP Shantanu Sen, also slammed the BJP’s conduct during the recent Assembly elections.
“Tamil Nadu had polls for 234 assembly seats on one day. But West Bengal, where the BJP was vulnerable, with 294 Assembly seats had polls in eight phases. Infection rate was 2.3% before the polls but after eight phases, it rose to 33%. Kudos to our CM, it has again come down below 1.8% now,” Mr Sen said.
On vaccination, he said the government has opened floodgates of corruption by allowing variable pricing for vaccines for the States and the Centre.
BJP MP Dr. Anil Jain said that as a medical practitioner himself, he could say that doctors were still learning about the disease. He said the pandemic had been a “blessing in disguise”, giving India the opportunity to set up manufacturing for N95 masks and other necessary items.
Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut said the Prime Minister had said “we need 21 days to win the war against COVID-19”.
“I want to ask the Health Minister how many 21 days do you need? One Health Minister has already been made a scapegoat,” he said.
RJD MP Manoj K. Jha said he was speaking on behalf of the lakhs of people who had died. He said a Right to Health should be linked to the Right to Life, making it difficult for hospitals to turn away patients.
DMK MP Tiruchi Siva suggested that the modern vaccine manufacturing facility near Chennai that was lying unused be handed over to the State government to run. He said Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin had written to the Centre proposing the same two months ago. In his response, Mr. Mandaviya said the suggestion was being examined.
Referring to Dr. Harsh Vardhan, Mr. O’Brien said he had “tried his best for two years” and that he brought it up as Mr. Mandaviya’s reply had made no mention of his predecessor.