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Migrant laborers sit in a bus to travel to their villages following a lockdown put into place to control the rising cases of coronavirus infections, in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, April 20, 2021 Image Credit: AP

An apocalypse is unfolding in India.

From less than 15,000 new COVID-19 cases a day just about a couple of months ago, the country is witnessing close to 300,000 cases every day now. The death toll is mounting as well.

India’s already overburdened public health system, creaking with severe limitations in its infrastructure, has now collapsed. Horrifying pictures are surfacing every days of the appalling scenarios — even with two patients in a single bed. Oxygen stocks are running out, medicines like remdesivir are in short supply and are rumoured to be sold in the black market at a high premium.

Even the dead, it seems, have lost their right to leave this world with dignity. There are reports of mass graves, crematoria melting under the constant pressure of bodies being piled up. An aerial video recently shared on social media showed rows and rows of funeral pyres being lit, as crematoria seem to no longer able to handle the surge.

It is right here

COVID-19 cases no longer are among those distant news one gets about other people, or about second hand or third hand information about distant events. It is right here in our homes, our lives. I don’t think there is anyone left among us who does not know a person who has been infected with the deadly virus.

The government vaccination programme, kicking off with a certain level of success, seems to have hit a stumbling block. Stocks are growing thin, and the second dose for many persons have been put off indefinitely.

While the federal government has allowed the states to buy their own stocks from the open market as they deem fit, considering how long things take to get done in India thanks to red tape, it is anyone’s guess how long it would take before vaccines are easily available.

As if things could not get worse, it was brought to light on Monday that an astounding 4.4 million — yes you read that right — doses of the vaccine have been wasted due to inept handling over the past three months. Based on information provided by the Right to Information Act, the blame for this colossal waste has been put primarily on five states — Tamil Nadu, Haryana, Punjab, Manipur and Telangana.

Criminal waste of resources

According to local media, the biggest culprit has been Tamil Nadu, where 12 per cent of the doses have been wasted. In a situation where vaccines seem to be the only way to rid us of the pandemic, this is a criminal waste of resources. Those responsible for this waste need to be brought to book.

As the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds in India, as usual it is again the bottom rungs of society that are feeling the pinch. With lockdowns already started in places like Maharashtra and Delhi, it seems to be only a matter of time before large swathes of the country are closed once again.

As a natural result, the starving millions of migrant labourers will again start their long march towards survival, towards trying to find some basic means to sustain themselves. And more precious lives will be lost in the process.

But do we really care? Despite all the warnings about social distancing and safety protocols, millions around the country have been attending religious festivals and political rallies. It is very clear that these multitudes do not bother about their health or those of others.

“Oh this can’t happen to me” type of mentality rules the roost, and the inevitable thus happens as a natural course of events.

Gloom and doom in India

Is there any way out? At this moment it is just gloom and doom in India. The lackadaisical attitude of the general populace, combined with the inefficiency of the authorities to enforce public order, are creating a double whammy for the country.

There are thus two ways out of this calamity. One — the government has to boost public expenditure on widening the health care facilities and vaccine availability.

The decision to allow all above 18 to be vaccinated is welcome, but the vaccines themselves need to be available in the first place. Along with this is the availability of medicines and oxygen cylinders for those critical patients.

Second — we need to change our mindset. All of us focus on our rights as citizens of the country, but how many of us think of the responsibilities that those rights bestow upon us? We need to heed the public safety protocols in place not just for our own safety, but for others as well.

Those of us who are lucky enough to be vaccinated, it becomes even more important to observe the safety protocols since we can still transmit the virus without ourselves getting infected.

Is that too much to ask for a country which prides itself on being the world’s largest democracy? We have the maturity to choose our leaders, so why can we not show the same maturity in protecting ourselves?

If we don’t, God help India.