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Opinion | Covid pandemic: Those playing with lives of people must be sternly dealt with

The Centre on Wednesday said the UK variant of Coronavirus is declining in proportion across India, but the double mutant variant, found in Maharashtra, is the main cause for the current surge in Covid-19 cases.

Rajat Sharma Rajat Sharma @RajatSharmaLive
New Delhi Updated on: May 06, 2021 11:09 IST
Opinion | Covid pandemic: Those playing with lives of
Image Source : INDIA TV

Opinion | Covid pandemic: Those playing with lives of people must be sternly dealt with

On Wednesday, India reported nearly 4.13 lakh fresh Covid-19 cases across the country, and there were 3,980 Covid-related deaths reported officially. The positivity rate stood at 24.4 per cent, meaning that out of 100 tests conducted, 24.4 cases were reported as Covid positive. As of now, there are roughly 35.7 lakh active cases pending. This, at a time, when testing in India has dropped to 15.4 lakh, down from 16.6 lakh tests done on the previous day.

The Centre on Wednesday said the UK variant of Coronavirus is declining in proportion across India, but the double mutant variant, found in Maharashtra, is the main cause for the current surge in Covid-19 cases.

The principal scientific adviser to the Government of India, Prof K. VijayRaghavan said on Wednesday that a third wave of the pandemic is inevitable. He called for strengthening surveillance and upgrading of vaccines against new variants. According to him, the pathogen has adopted “hit and run” tactics to breach immunity that most of the Indians had developed during the first wave and also due to vaccination.

Amidst this grim scenario came a shocking report about the manufacture of non-sterilized cotton swab buds used in RT-PCR test kits by children at a slum in Ulhasnagar near Mumbai. This is a case of criminal negligence by kit manufacturers. After we received a video of children making these cotton buds from an alert viewer, our reporter Rajiv Singh went to Sant Dnyaneshwar Nagar Camp Number 2, where he found women and children sitting on the floor in several homes, making cotton buds and then packing them in paper envelopes. These cotton buds are used for inserting into the nostril and throat of people to take swab samples for RT-PCR test.

These test kits are, on paper, ‘manufactured’ by big companies, but they outsource the work to small vendors, who, in turn, get these swab buds made in slums under unhygienic conditions. The families get Rs 20 for making 1,000 swap sample buds. Since our reporter had alerted police and FDA officials, their joint team arrived and seized all the cotton swab kits that had been packed in cartons for dispatch to the vendor.

None of these cotton swab buds were being made in a sterilized conditions. Think of the enormity of the risks involved. These cotton swab buds are inserted into the nostril and throat of unsuspecting people who come for RT-PCR tests. These could be potential carriers of Coronavirus, and that too, from a locality where there had been many cases of Covid-19 infection. This work has been going on for the last several months without any surveillance on part of the local authorities.

I spoke to Dr Harsh Mahajan, founder of Mahajan Diagnostic Imaging Centres, about the risks involved in making such kits under non-sterilized conditions. He described the making of such contaminated swaps as nothing short of a crime, and that too, from a state like Maharashtra, which had been the epicenter of the second wave of a pandemic since last several months.

“Normally such cotton swabs should have been made under hygienic and sterile conditions that we find inside operation theatres. By inserting these swabs inside the nostril and throat of people, they will not only get incorrect RT-PCR reports, but also run the risk of getting bacterial infections. We cannot even imagine in our dreams, our country manufacturing such cotton swabs under unhygienic conditions”, he said.

Normally, cotton swabs used in RT-PCR tests are made in a mechanized manner, untouched by human hands. Swab buds are made on machines from sterilized cotton, the packing is done by machines, and the place where these buds are stored is sanitized. There is no human involvement at any stage, but with an eye on profits, some of these companies have started outsourcing this work to small vendors who get them made under unhygienic conditions. This is a dangerous trend which needs to be stopped through stringent action.

In my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Wednesday night, we also showed how surgical gloves discarded by doctors and nurses are purchased from ragpickers and junk dealers, and are being recycled and packed in Tronica City, Ghaziabad, near Delhi.

India TV reporter Vijay Laxmi reported how the recyclers rented a closed factory, installed  washing machines and dryers, collected used gloves and masks from outside hospitals and vaccination centres, washed them with water, and then repacked them for sale. Local police arrested three persons,  seized nearly 175 bags  full of used gloves collected from hospitals, and 80 boxes packed with recycled and packed surgical gloves. The number of used gloves seized ran into several lakhs. Police is trying to identify the role of others involved in this chain.

Dr Harsh Mahajan described these recycled surgical gloves as “weapons of death”. He called for identifying the entire chain of distributors and stockists who were selling them as new surgical gloves. “Such recyclers and traders have put their conscience on sale by putting the health of thousands of people at risk”, he added.

In my view, traders who recycle and sell used surgical gloves are enemies of society. They are committing a grave sin by spreading infection among people. Such inhuman practices thrive only when there is a huge surge in demand and manufacturers and traders cut corners to make a killing in the market. They forget that they are risking the lives of thousands of people.

Delhi Police Commissioner S. N. Shrivastava has revealed how a gang of seven persons set up an illegal factory in Kotdwar, Uttarakhand to manufacture fake Remdesivir injection vials under the name “Covipri”. By the time they were caught, they had already sold nearly 2,000 such fake Remdesivir injections at the rate of Rs 20,000 per vial. 196 fake vials and 3,000 empty vials were seized from the spot.

In Lucknow, police arrested 10 black marketers who were selling oxygen cylinders at exorbitant rates. 225 oxygen cylinders were seized from their hideouts in Gomtinagar Extension and Janakipuram. They were selling each oxygen cylinder for Rs 35,000. These black marketers much face the full brunt of law and must be given exemplary punishment.

On the brighter side, two oxygen plants have now been installed at the AIIMS and Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, both run by the Central government, in Delhi, with financial aid from PM CARES Fund. These have been installed by DRDO along with its partner Trident Pneumatics, a Coimbatore-based company. These plants will produce oxygen round-the-clock. Each plant can produce 1,000 litre of medical oxygen in one hour, enough to provide 5 litres of oxygen to 190 patients daily. In all, five such oxygen plants will be set up in Delhi.

Indian Navy’s warship INS Talwar reached Mangaluru from Bahrain on Wednesday carrying two cryogenic containers containing liquid oxygen. Two more warships INS Airavat from Singapore and INS Kolkata from Kuwait are coming to India carrying liquid oxygen, cylinders, cryogenic tanks and other medical equipment. Another warship INS Shardul has been sent from Kochi to Kuwait to bring liquid oxygen to India.

As of now, nine Indian Navy warships have been sent to different ports to bring liquid oxygen under Operation Samudra Setu-II. A chartered Qantas flight came to Delhi from Sydney carrying 1,056 ventilators and 43 oxygen concentrators. A C-17 Globemaster aircraft of Indian Air Force came to Chennai from Australia carrying four empty cryogenic oxygen containers.

But such a humongous effort is looking small in front of the crisis. There is no option but to be careful. I would appeal to people to get themselves vaccinated at the earliest, stay in their homes, wear masks and practise social distancing.

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