India weekend curfew Covid
A man rides a bike in a deserted market area during a weekend lockdown in New Delhi, India, Saturday, April 17, 2021. Over 200,000 new infections were detected in the past 24 hours, and major cities, like Mumbai and New Delhi, are under virus restrictions Image Credit: Altaf Qadri/AP

This past week has been harrowing in India. You pick up the phone, and find that almost every close friend or relative has tested positive for COVID 19. Social media posts are utterly depressing to read, nearly all tweets are about people asking for help, for a hospital bed, for basic life saving drugs. A doctor friend of mine says he has been seeing 25 covid patients in a span of two hours.

Don’t ask me for a bed, he says, I can’t help anyone. This is how dire the situation has become. All around us, the callous response of our governments — both at the centre and states- is widely visible. With cases reaching well over 230,000 a day, India is in the middle of a health emergency.

But its leadership is busy campaigning for elections. While people literally drop dead waiting for a hospital bed or oxygen support across several cities, a wave of anger builds up inside me as a tax paying citizen.

Zero lessons learnt

I want to know — WHAT lessons did we learn from the pandemic last year? We locked down the country in 2020 to ramp up health infrastructure. Where is that infrastructure today?

Why isn’t the army being called in to build temporary hospitals? Why were we lead to believe we had won this battle with vaccines and testing? When Maharashtra reported a shortage of vaccines, it lead to an ugly political spat with the BJP lead government at the centre blaming Uddhav Thackeray. Since then at least 10 more states have reported vaccine shortages.

Today, people in Delhi are struggling to get test results within 24 hours, most have to wait at least 48 hours to get back the all important RT-PCR result. In many of India’s smaller cities, people are reporting a long wait of several days to get their reports back, thus delaying crucial treatment.

India’s testing capability?

What happened to those grand claims about India’s testing capability? A disturbing report in ‘The Economic Times’ says that in Lucknow, some pathology labs are not conducting tests saying they have “orders from the administration not to test” for the last 10 days or so. If this true, it is not only shocking but simply criminal.

Several media reports have surfaced about the Gujarat government underreporting deaths from COVID, while the Gujarat High Court has rebuked the state government for its handling of the situation. In Delhi, the government claims it has a handle on the situation which has taken a dramatic turn for the worse in the last few days, but people have nightmarish stories to tell of their own experiences.

Last night, a close friend of mine had to beg and plead to get an elderly relative admitted to a hospital after her oxygen levels plummeted to the 70s. It took her some 10 hours of desperate pleading to finally get help at 5am. The only silver lining — ordinary folks and fellow citizens who have stepped up to help those in need.

A nation in panic

My friend says kind strangers helped her aunt get an oxygen cylinder. On Twitter, it is the kindness of people that is getting those in crisis the help they need. Unfortunately, that is not a privilege everyone has.

It is almost as if the state has abandoned its duty and left us to the mercy of God. Our leadership is instead busy campaigning for elections, and is quick to blame people alone for this current mess.

Yes, people have been careless and COVID fatigue had set in, but our leaders are not leading by example when they hold mass rallies without masks, and allow massive religious congregations.

More than that, there is no excuse for the collapse of our health care systems after we had a whole year to prepare. Finally, a thought for our doctors and frontline health workers — thank you for all you’re doing. You are exhausted, tired, angry and have your own families to think of. At this difficult time, you are the only heroes.