People wait in a line outside a vaccination centre to receive a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Mumbai, India on March 2, 2021. (Image: Reuters/Francis Mascarenhas)
COVID-19 vaccination centres in many parts of the country have been witnessing large crowds since March 2, a day after the second phase of the nationwide inoculation drive was launched.
Long queues and large congregations at vaccination sites were observed especially in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR). While priority was earlier given to healthcare and frontline workers, the general public – everyone above the age of 60 and those over 45 years with comorbidities – has been allowed to get vaccinated.
Mumbai and its neighbouring areas, considered India’s largest financial hub, have been severely impacted by the novel coronavirus pandemic. With the city and the state of Maharashtra reporting resurgence in COVID-19 cases, citizens were seen scrambling to get vaccinated.
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On March 1, Moneycontrol had reported how minor glitches on the purpose-built Co-WIN platform had affected registrations. The Union Health Ministry later clarified that all COVID-19 vaccine registrations will only happen on the web portal and not through any mobile application.
While some improvement was seen in the functioning of the Co-WIN portal on March 2, vaccination centres were struggling to handle the large number of senior citizens and people with comorbidities who had turned up.
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According to a report by The Indian Express, the jumbo facility at the Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC) witnessed jostling for an hour as a large number of people were waiting to get tokens and enter. Security was subsequently beefed up to maintain physical distance as there was a risk of the incident turning into a potential super-spreading event.
By evening of March 2, the Union Health Ministry permitted the state to open vaccination centres at 29 private hospitals in Mumbai. These centres include major hospitals like Hinduja, Lilavati, Fortis, Hiranandani and Bombay Hospital.
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On the opening day, there was confusion regarding the registration process in Bengaluru, Karnataka too. A Rajajeshwari Nagar resident told the Bengaluru Mirror that he tried to register on behalf of his parents but found that the next slots were only available in April.
However, the situation is likely to improve as more centres are opened and the process gets streamlined.
Health experts have expressed concern over these incidents of overcrowding -- without social distancing -- as they may lead to a new cluster of cases. Additionally, as many of the people lining up to get the vaccine are senior citizens or those above 45 with comorbidities, the impact of a possible super spreader event may be much worse.
According to a report by The Times of India, Karnataka's technical advisory committee on COVID-19 has already flagged this issue to officials.
Some have also proposed offline and walk-in registration for senior citizens to help ease congestion. "Many senior citizens want the option of walk-in registration. If we can shift all those who can afford to pay for the vaccine to private hospitals for walk-in registration, government hospitals can be used for people who cannot afford it. That should ease congestion,” epidemiologist Dr Giridhara R Babu told the newspaper.
Others, including former Rajya Sabha member Majeed Memon who served on the Parliamentary Standing Committee for Law & Justice, called on authorities to regulate the vaccination process. Memon added that the "unruly crowd" throwing social distancing norms to the winds for the vaccine "is unfortunate".
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As of March 4, India had reported more than 1.11 crore confirmed COVID-19 cases. The death toll from the outbreak in the country stood at over 1.57 lakh. While more than 1.08 crore patients had recovered, 1.70 lakh cases remained ‘active’. Globally, more than 11.50 crore individuals have been infected by the virus and over 26.57 lakh people have died so far.
A speedy rollout of vaccines is being seen as the best way to curb the spread of COVID-19 and restore normalcy in the pandemic-battered global economy.Click here for Moneycontrol’s full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic