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COVID-19 rule-breaking in Centre’s sights

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The Centre has raised the issue of COVID-19 rule-breaking with state and union territory governments.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently expressed concerns over COVID-19 rule-breaking. “I will say very strongly that it is a matter of grave concern to see people without masks in the market and not following the protocol in hill stations,” he said. “ This is not right…experts are also repeatedly warning that due to inattention, carelessness, overcrowding, there can be a huge surge in the infection. And that is why it is important that at every level, every step is taken seriously. We should try to stop events with more crowds.” 

The Union Ministry of Home Affairs subsequently delivered a missive to states and union territories urging them to clamp down on violations. “Blatant violations of COVID norms have been observed in several parts of the country, especially in public transport and at hill stations,” Home Secretary Ajay Bhallah wrote in a letter. “Massive crowds are also thronging the market places, violating norms of social distancing. Consequently, [an] increase in [the] [reproduction number] in some of the states, is a matter of concern.”

India is thought to be headed towards a third wave, especially given the rise of the Delta variant – cases of which are rising. The variant, said World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, is now in more than 111 countries and we expect it to soon be the dominant COVID-19 strain circulating worldwide, if it isn’t already.”

India’s heading towards the third wave is in the wake of a savage second wave which some experts estimate to have led to deaths that are in excess of official figures. Data journalist Rukmini S. suggests that the true death toll of COVID-19 – officially over 412,000 at the time of writing – may be as high as 2.5 million including 1.5 million deaths during the second wave alone. 

As such, it is untenable for complacency to reign. The Ministry of Home Affairs makes this clear. Bhalla stresses in his letter that “it is important that the authorities concerned shall be responsible for ensuring COVID-appropriate behaviour in all crowded places, such [as] markets, restaurants, bus stations, railway platforms, public parks, banquet and marriage halls, sports complexes, and all areas identified as hotspots for transmission of the virus.” 

He further cautioned that “if the norms of COVID Appropriate Behaviour are not maintained at any establishment/premises/markets etc., such places shall be liable for the re-imposition of restrictions, for containing the spread of COVID-19 and the [defaulters] shall also be liable for action under the relevant laws.” Bhalla urged that crowds be regulated and that “the officers concerned should be made personally responsible for any laxity in strict enforcement of COVID-appropriate behaviour.”

Laxity is not a luxury India can afford. As Bhalla points out, “the second wave of COVID is not over yet… we must guard against complacency and laxity which creeps in as positivity declines.” Vigilance, therefore, against COVID-19 rule-breaking is a must. 

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