india covid vaccine
A man argues with a policewoman as he waits with others to receive COVID-19 vaccine outside a vaccination centre in Mumbai, India Image Credit: AP

I am angry. I’m recovering from COVID 19, mercifully able to manage my symptoms at home. Halfway through my illness came the news that my father had tested positive. Since then, every waking minute has been spent organising tests, talking to doctors, video calls to ensure he is OK, isolating my mother who has lymphoma and praying she doesn’t get it.

Mentally it is exhausting and I have been terrified simply because my parents live in Delhi- officially the hell capital of the world right now. Watching the health care system collapse, I shudder to think what would happen if they ever needed a hospital bed. And I know, I am one of the luckier ones.

Everyday, I have spent hours messaging friends and family going through the same nightmare, some even worse. With the state completely abdicating it’s responsibility, we have been left to fend for each other, using our own contacts and the goodwill of friends, and even strangers, to get medicines, oxygen or any other help.

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I am angry. Angry that so many people have literally dropped dead because they didn’t get oxygen in time, or because a hospital would not admit them for lack of a COVID positive test. I am angry. Angry because it has become so difficult to even get a COVID test organised in Delhi, the nation’s capital, and then you wait for days for the results to come back.

By the time you get the results, your symptoms may be worse. The labs are overwhelmed. Many of their own staff have tested positive and they’re struggling to keep up. This is the situation here. It is even worse in many other parts of the country.

I am angry

I am angry. Angry that the government elected by the people, FOR the people, took it’s eye off the ball and did not see this wave coming. How did they not see it? There were deadly, furious second waves in Europe, did they not serve as a warning that we could be next? Several health experts from around the world had been warning about a deadly new wave in India for months.

Our own parliamentary committee had warned of oxygen shortages last November. In April 2020, an Empowered Groups of Officers, set up by the Centre for Covid, had warned that “In the coming days India could face a shortage of oxygen supplies. To address this, CII will coordinate with Indian Gas Association and mitigate the lack of oxygen supply.”

As the Indian Express reported, in November, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health also flagged the issue of “availability as well as affordability” of medical oxygen and asked the government to “encourage adequate production of Oxygen for ensuring its supply as per demand in the hospitals.”

We were so busy patting ourselves on the back for beating COVID, for being the world’s biggest pharmacy, and general hubris, that we find ourselves in this mess today. What is even more infuriating is how even now, supporters of the government are deflecting from any accountability, and blaming the western media for “vulture” journalism, and pandemic “porn”.

This is utterly bogus. The media is reporting the ground realities, as they did in Europe and Brazil and the US. It is our duty and our right as citizens to demand answers from the government and demand accountability.

Focused on 'image'

I am angry. Angry that this government has zero empathy for all of us wading through this crisis. Instead of focusing on saving lives, this is a government that is worried more about its “image” than it is about ground realities. Leading international newspapers such as the New York Times, The Guardian, Le Monde, Straits Times, have been scathing in their criticism of India’s handling of the pandemic.

Yes people let their guard down, but this government and its top leadership allowed large election rallies to happen, they allowed the Kumbh Mela to go ahead, not leading by example in stead giving the message that all was well, as they campaigned without masks.

Surging COVID numbers in election states like Bengal only prove that point now. What did the government do to ramp up health infrastructure in the last one year? Sadly precious little.

Oxygen shortage

Of the 162 sanctioned oxygen generation plants under the PM Cares fund, only 33 were built before this second wave while the rest were tied up in bureaucratic red tape.

And why is it so hard for the government to say — we take responsibility for what happened, we messed up, every life lost is one life too many. Instead they will worry about managing the narrative. The Soliciter General tells the Delhi government not to be a “crybaby” for demanding oxygen for hospitals.

I wonder how Mr. Tushar Mehta sleeps at night. The Health Minister Harsh Vardhan tells us India’s COVID fatality rate is the lowest- leading doctors and experts say this is plain untrue but is this really supposed to make people feel better? A former Indian diplomat died in the parking lot of a leading NCR hospital as he waited to get admitted. That is the grim reality.

I am angry. Angry that I have lost too many friends, colleagues and their loved ones over the last few weeks. Angry that the government has been so callous in its response. Don’t ever forget.