Balance must return at the earliest to the political and policy conversation around the unanticipated surge in Covid-19 cases if India needs to cope with what is an extremely serious and unpredictable situation. Political mudslinging, apportioning blame and shifting responsibilities hold little meaning at a time when every hand needs to be on the deck.The notion that states can get away easy by parking the blame on the Centre, or that somehow the Centre can be a step removed by letting the states do their own bit, are all flawed in the current context. Be it the Centre or the state, both are in this together, swimming against the tide with limited resources and a huge challenge.Last time, all preparations were made on a working assumption of a maximum peak of 1.5-2 lakh cases a day. India never crossed a daily figure of 90,000-one lakh cases. This time, we have already crossed 2.6 lakh cases a day. So, the pressure on medical infrastructure, even if it had been augmented following the first wave, is beyond anticipation.Oxygen requirement has already crossed peak use of the last wave. Further, the demand is expected to go beyond India’s daily production capacity, of which only 60% is currently available, although the gap is likely to be narrowed soon. Yet, at the current clip, India may even require to import oxygen.So, beyond the political fog, the reality is not just grim but genuinely complex. There was no scientific warning of this kind of resurgence. Broadly, as of now, GoI’s understanding is that three strands of the Covid-19 virus are at play. One, the British variant, which started from Punjab, is now expectedly prevalent in northern India. The second is the South African variant, which is said to be more active in West Bengal and parts of eastern India. And, finally, a double mutant of the existing Indian Covid-19 variety, which has prevalence in Maharashtra and western India.It’s, however, safe to assume that by now, these variants have transmitted across geographies. And, quite frankly, it doesn’t make much of a difference because researchers say vaccines available in India are effective against these variants – unless new findings change this assumption.All lives matterIn this backdrop, there can only be one guiding principle – save lives first. And the starting point must be to make up for lost time. How? Take oxygen. Some 162 plants were tendered under PM CARES Fund late last year. These were to come up next to big medical facilities. However, it appears matters have moved forward only in some 40 of them because state governments have not yet allotted land for the purpose. There are several such projects that probably began well but were not seen through, because the system slackened as infection numbers dropped rather drastically between last December and February.The sense of urgency around clearing vaccines was also brought to question. One of the main reasons that Covaxin production moved at a hesitant pace is because of the controversy surrounding its early approval. GoI also came under extreme pressure when some states refused to accept it and experts pulled out the rulebook. Now, all that criticism has dissipated because the Covid dashboard has changed. No one is objecting to Covaxin any longer, but precious time was lost, which needs to be covered quickly. GoI has given some of its facilities, but more will have to be done.Then comes the next basket of issues on what needs to be done to arrest this trend. Suggesting ‘Just vaccinate’ is correct, because there is no other antidote. But now, vaccines are, at best, a middle- to long-term option. From an administrative standpoint, 4-6 weeks or even longer are needed after the first dose for some sort of immunity to build in case of any vaccine. And for optimum results, the timeframe could be longer.Hence, while vaccination must be hastened at any cost, it’s not going to arrest the current surge. That would mean going back to older ways like lockdowns or curfews. The difference is that while the last time GoI announced a national lockdown, this time it has left it to the states to decide. While that may be politically better suited, immediate results may be hard to come by this way. At the same time, there’s a legitimate fear that a complete lockdown could be disastrous for an economy struggling to find its feet. Also, there may be a backlash from vulnerable segments of the population.Proactive and flexibleWhat is needed, therefore, is a smart, flexible strategy that can be both effective and tolerably disruptive. If the principle is to save lives first, then a smart allocation of medical resources, including oxygen, must be done by focusing on geographies where the spread is virulent. In other words, these geographies need to be isolated for both treatment and slowing down the virus. Which means, we may have to look at district lockdowns or a bunch of districts together, especially if micro containment zones don’t provide the answer.In other words, a lot will change on the go, but the going may not fully stop in such a strategy. The first pit stop in such a strategy is political teamwork, where effectiveness gets primacy over credit and survival over blame.Author’s views are personal.