It wasn’t many weeks back that India was trumpeting itself as global ‘vaccine guru’ that would lead the drive against COVID-19 and rid the world of it.
As the impending disaster was simmering, the ever-complicit media kept singing paeans for the government. So much so that a phrase, ‘vaccine diplomacy’, was coined for how India would involve its neighbours in its fight against the pandemic.
Here we are now — gripped by a nasty second wave that is getting scarier by the day, having turned India into the epicentre of COVID-19.
The second most populous country in the world is reeling under death and disease with no respite in sight. The number of infections and deaths continue to rise exponentially with a large number of cases going unreported.
The telltale signs suggest that the situation has already got out of hand. As the COVID-19 inferno continues to rage, a report by The Lancet predicts one million deaths by August. The Lancet editorial quoted the one-million projection by leading global health research body IHME. It doesn’t stop there.
Rapidly spreading variant
WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan warned in an interview with AFP: “the epidemiological features that we see in India today do indicate that it’s an extremely rapidly spreading variant.”
Swamithan has referred to it as a threat to the whole world. Scenes from ground zero are frightening as people helplessly see their kith and kin breathe their last with no assistance from a government that has been caught off guard despite repeated warnings by virologists and other experts that a deadlier second wave was round the corner.
Vaccine stocks have run out, hospitals are poorly equipped, health centres are bursting at the seams, crematoriums are overflowing with corpses. There are heart-rending stories coming from everywhere.
It’s a shame that despite warnings, government, and people too, became complacent pretending everything was normal. People stopped wearing masks; mass religious pilgrimages and congregations like Kumbh Mela were allowed; huge election rallies were carried out with the ruling BJP at the forefront in this breach of COVID-19 protocol.
In an interview with senior journalist Karan Thapar, noted American epidemiologist and biostatistician Prof Bhramar Mukherjee said that the mathematical projections she had done suggested that peak infections would come in mid-May when India could see 8-10 lakh daily infections and in terms of deaths the peak would be two weeks later in end May when India could see 4500 daily deaths.
A terrifying scenario
Other experts too have predicted a similarly terrifying scenario. These spine chilling projections based on proper research cannot be ignored or downplayed, as BJP politicians and their apologists try to do alluding to the international media coverage as some conspiracy against India.
Had those at the helm not been lackadaisical, perhaps the second wave may not have blown across India with such fury and catastrophic effect. Despite repeated warnings, medical supplies weren’t ramped up and what we see around us today is a natural manifestation of that.
A damning expose` by a leading Indian magazine says that despite surge, India’s COVID-19 task force, comprising top scientists of the country, didn’t conduct a single meeting in February or March. “As daily cases rose, drastically this year, India’s top scientists in the task force watched — but did not meet,” says the report.
Another disturbing reality is the callous approach of the authorities towards the victims and their attendants. A union minister was seen on television threatening to slap a man who was pleading for oxygen for his ailing mother.
There are many other cases of government apathy. In UP, police summons and harasses relatives of COVID victims and volunteers who put out tweets asking for help, thus infuriating the government that wants to hide its failures.
India will finally come out of this express health crisis but the apocalyptic impact on its already wobbling economy and slow development will be far-reaching.
If the media had done its job last year instead of witch-hunting the minorities, using COVID-19 as an excuse, it could have kept the government on tenterhooks.
Had the politicians concentrated on setting in place strict measures and strengthening the infrastructure instead of whipping up emotions against minorities by trying to project them as super spreaders without any evidence to back their outrageous claims, the misery and the utter failure of the state that we see today could have been avoided.
Shabir Hussain is a senior journalist based in India