India’s Covid disaster

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India is in the midst of a cataclysmic Covid-19 nightmare that has unleashed unimaginable suffering on its people. The stats are getting grimmer by the day; after claims earlier in the year that the government had ‘beaten’ the virus with new cases down to 11,000 a day, this week India recorded the world’s highest single-day coronavirus cases at 332,730. The overall death toll at 190,000 is staggering, with 2,624 deaths recorded in 24 hours on Saturday alone. The accounts coming from across the border are truly heartbreaking: there are desperate pleas for oxygen with patients begging doctors for treatment outside emergency wards as others breathe their last; death is occurring in plain sight; makeshift crematoriums are being created in parking lots to deal with the deluge of bodies. With hospitals exceeding their capacity and the collapse of the healthcare infrastructure, doctors across India are exhausted from swimming against an all-consuming current. Thousands are dying a slow death each day due to the lack of oxygen and medication — many of these lives could have been saved had it not been for the deplorable lack of leadership.
India’s Covid-19 story did not have to be this horror show. But complacency, denial, and an utter disregard for science and data pushed millions into a crippling crisis. As early reports of mutated strains and their high transmissibility surfaced, the Narendra Modi government continued with its grandstanding. Instead of chalking out a plan to vaccinate Indians first, the government was quick to secure deals to export the vaccine. The result is almost too painful to bear: citizens of the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer are dying by the thousands. Meanwhile, superspreader gatherings such as election rallies in West Bengal and the Kumbh Mela were allowed to continue. The role of BJP leaders here has been criminal. Just a month ago, the party encouraged supporters to attend the Kumbh festival, falsely claiming it to be safe. In Uttarakhand, the chief minister went as far as to say that “faith in God will overcome the fear of the virus”. It was only a few days ago that Prime Minister Modi announced the cancellation of pre-election roadshows, when criticism against his government’s handling of the crisis intensified. It is because of this absence of leadership that India has become a cautionary tale for others in the region. In Pakistan, where Covid-19 cases are climbing at an alarming rate and hospitals in the capital are at capacity, the government appears to be sleepwalking into a similar disaster. Poor vaccine rollout, a creaking healthcare system and blatant disregard for SOPs could spell doom in a matter of weeks.