The Guardian 23-04-21
At the beginning of March, the Hindu nationalist government of Narendra Modi claimed the country was in Covid-19’s “endgame”. India is now in a living hell. A new “double mutant” variant, named B.1.617, has emerged in a devastating coronavirus second wave which has seen hospitals run out of beds and oxygen. Mortuaries are so full that bodies are left to decompose at home. Charities warn that the dead risk being left on the streets…Yet little more than six weeks ago, Mr Modi, with not even 1% of the population vaccinated, declared that the country was the “world’s pharmacy” and signalled that pre-pandemic life could resume. Superspreading took place when thousands filled cricket stadiums and millions of Hindus took a dip in the Ganges during the Kumbh Mela festival…Like Donald Trump, Mr Modi would not give up campaigning while the pandemic raged. India went ahead with five state elections in April, and an unmasked Mr Modi held huge rallies… The Indian prime minister suffers from overconfidence in his own instincts and pooh-poohs expert advice. The Indian prime minister suffers from over-confidence in his own instincts and pooh-poohs expert advice. .. In the first wave, Covid struck India’s cities, but it is now moving to rural areas, where most of the country lives. As with many of the countries hit hardest, India’s death toll was largely avoidable and a result of arrogant and incompetent government…. To contain biological and social contagions requires credible reassurance, to quell panic, and for people to wear masks and obey rules of physical distancing… Mr Modi has put the onus on state governments to clear up his mess. The buck stops with him…. Future historians will judge Mr Modi harshly if he continues with the exceptionalist views that have led to a disastrous public health outcome.
Yahoo News-23-04-21 also tweeted by The Time
Dr. Jalil Parkar, one of India’s leading pulmonologists, wears his exhaustion on his face… In between treating patients at the COVID-19 intensive care unit of Mumbai’s prestigious Lilavati Hospital, Parkar appears regularly on TV to give updates on the current, devastating second wave of the pandemic that is killing thousands of Indians. He himself spent time in the ICU last year and almost died after suffering multiple COVID-complications. Now, he confesses to losing his calm over what he is seeing unfold every day….”Our healthcare system has collapsed. We have let down our own people in the country,” he says. “What can doctors do when our infrastructure is unable to take the patients, when there are no hospital beds or oxygen cylinders?”… . Every day, more than 2,000 people in India are dying with COVID-19, according to official numbers—and experts believe that number is a dramatic underestimate… 22 critically ill patients lost their lives at a hospital in Maharashtra after a leak from the main hospital oxygen tank stopped the flow to their ventilators. Multiple hospitals in India are petitioning the High Courts to seek immediate oxygen supply. If the apocalypse had an image, it would be the hospitals of India.
Despite these inescapable horrors, much of India remains in a sort of parallel reality where COVID-19 is not a threat. Tens of thousands of Hindu devotees continue to show up each day for a dip in the Ganges as part of the Kumbh Mela pilgrimage in Haridwar, Uttarakhand. Millions of worshippers have participated in the weeks-long festival since the first day of bathing on March 11, despite clear evidence that thousands are testing positive for the virus after attending. In the space of just a few days in mid-April, more than 1,600 cases were confirmed among devotees. In March, when the second wave was already underway, state leaders from the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) published full-page ads in national newspapers telling worshippers it was “clean” and “safe” to attend. The Uttarakhand chief minister declared on March 20, “nobody will be stopped in the name of COVID-19 as we are sure the faith in God will overcome the fear of the virus.” It wasn’t until mid-April that Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that participation in the pilgrimage should be kept “symbolic” to combat the pandemic. Is it any wonder that the festival has become a super-spreader event?… The Gujarat high court has demanded the state government reveal the accurate count of COVID-19 patients and deaths.
In other states, the data for COVID-19 deaths are unreliable at best, and at worst fabricated to cover up the devastation. To give just one example, in a crematorium in the state of Madhya Pradesh, 94 bodies were cremated in a day but government data reported only three, according to Times Now…. as India reported the highest number of daily cases of anywhere in the world, the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party tweeted a video of one of Modi’s political rallies. (Five states are holding elections in May.) Alongside Modi was his close confidante and home minister, Amit Shah. In theory, Shah should have been in the capital, coordinating with various state governments on how to deal with the devastating spike in COVID-19 cases over the past few weeks. Instead, Shah has been holding roadshows with thousands of joyous crowds on the streets of eastern India. He broadcasts these rallies live on his Twitter and Facebook accounts at the same time as many Indians’ social media feeds are inundated with people begging for medical help. As thousands are dying, our home minister and our Prime Minister have looked the other way to continue campaigning. (It was only after significant criticism this week that Modi finally announced on Thursday night that he would be cancelling his Friday rallies in West Bengal to instead hold COVID-19 management meetings with state ministers.)
Why was India caught unprepared as the second wave ravaged a cross-section of Indian society? The responsibility lies with a strongman regime that has ignored all caution.
While epidemiologists, specialists and opposition leaders have long urged Modi to give approvals for foreign vaccines, the decision to give emergency use license to the Russian manufactured Sputnik V vaccine was only taken in the second week of April….Yet on April 20, when Modi finally addressed the nation about the growing crisis, he warned states that a lockdown should be considered a last resort, and called on young people to form committees to ensure COVID-19 protocols are being followed. On the festival of Ram Navami, he tweeted that people should follow the message of Lord Ram, the Hindu deity for protection, and follow “appropriate behaviour.”… At this critical juncture in its history, Indians have been left to fend for ourselves.
Asia Times 24-04-21
It is difficult to overstate the grip Covid-19 has on India…. At the core is the total failure of the Indian government, led by Prime Minister Modi, to take this pandemic seriously. By March 10, 2020, before the WHO declared a pandemic, the Indian government had reported about 50 Covid-19 cases in the country, with infections doubling in 14 days. The first major act from India’s prime minister was a 14-hour Janata curfew, which was dramatic but not in line with the WHO recommendations….This ruthless lockdown, with four hours’ notice, sent hundreds of thousands of migrant workers on the road to their homes, penniless, some dying by the wayside, many carrying the virus to their towns and villages…. The lockdown kept getting extended, but there was nothing systematic, no national policy that one could find anywhere on the government’s websites… The consequences of turning over health care to the private sector and underfunding public health have been diabolical… Late last year, the Indian government admitted that it has 0.8 medical doctor for every 1,000 Indians, and it has 1.7 nurses for every 1,000 Indians. No country of India’s size and wealth has such a small medical staff… This weakness of medical infrastructure is wholly due to privatization,… No private enterprise is going to develop any surplus beds or surplus ventilators voluntarily. It is this that inevitably causes crisis in a pandemic…. Shortages are a normal problem in any society. But the shortages of basic medical goods in India during the pandemic have been scandalous…. No large-scale rapid procurement is in the cards. Nor is there enough medical oxygen, and promises to build capacity have been unfulfilled by the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). India’s government has been exporting oxygen, even when it became clear that domestic reserves were depleted (it has also exported precious Remdesivir injections)…On March 25, 2020, Modi said he would win this “Mahabharat” – this epic battle – against Covid-19 in 18 days. Now, more than 56 weeks after that promise, India looks more like the blood-soaked fields of Kurukshetra, where thousands lay dead, with the war not even at halftime.
Narendra Modi’s attempts to censor the news and massage death rates can’t hide his failure to prepare India for its disastrous second COVID wave. Indians are dying, and so is the prime minister’s ‘strongman’ image. India is reeling under the deadliest wave of COVID-19 that the world has yet seen.
Financial Times 26-04-21
“It can be said with pride, India…defeated Covid-19 under the able, sensible, committed and visionary leadership of Prime Minister Modi… The party unequivocally hails its leadership for introducing India to the world as a proud and victorious nation in the fight against Covid.” Those were the words of a resolution passed by India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata party, just a few weeks ago in February. But now India is reeling from a surge in cases. Hospitals are running out of oxygen and acute-care beds. Mass cremations are taking place in makeshift facilities. Heart-rending pictures of suffering are being broadcast around the world. Surveys of mortuaries suggest that the number of Covid-19 deaths may be two to five times higher than the official figure of around 2,000 a day….. Driven by a desire to win the crucial state of West Bengal, the BJP staged mass election rallies. Modi declared himself “elated” by a large crowd that turned out to hear him speak a few days ago, even as Covid-19 cases soared. The Kumbh Mela, a religious festival that allows millions of pilgrims to converge on a single town, was allowed to go ahead and even promoted by the Hindu nationalist BJP… The lesson of India is to guard against premature celebration or hubris. Any improvement in the coronavirus situation should be used as an opportunity to prepare for future waves and to help the international fight against the pandemic. India will not be the last country to witness a tragic resurgence of Covid-19.
Back in January, Narendra Modi poured scorn on experts and scientists who warned his country faced a “tsunami” of infection… Modi is only the latest populist crusader to come unstuck. Former US President Donald Trump’s denialism appears to have cost tens of thousands of lives. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro fuelled a disaster by rejecting Covid-19 countermeasures in favour of crank cures. UK PM Boris Johnson paid a heavy personal and political price for ignoring the threat of the pandemic early on, though he has since become more cautious… But the pandemic is guaranteed to expose leaders who undermine truth, create alternative realities, ostracize experts and scientists and refuse to take precautions to keep the public safe… Having their negligence exposed may not deter the truth-twisting populist leaders inspired by Trump (who is already spoiling for a comeback). Populism will find fertile soil in the economic and social detritus left in the pandemic’s wake. But when leaders prioritize their political image over public health, millions of people suffer.
India’s coronavirus crisis is stunning to behold. In northern India, bodies are being cremated in public parks because crematoriums have exceeded their capacity. Elsewhere, officials have suggested that families bury in their backyards relatives who succumbed to covid-19. Despite being the world’s largest producer of vaccines, India has fully vaccinated less than 2 percent of its 1.3 billion people…. The underlying infirmities of India’s health-care infrastructure were well-known. Still, through harsh lockdown measures, the nation had controlled the initial wave by January. Then, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government abandoned its caution and, in a series of stunningly reckless decisions, invited the second wave that is now crushing the country. This colossal failure of policymaking has many forebears: general callousness, crass electoral considerations and sheer ineptitude. For a government that first assumed office in 2014 with a promise of sound, technocratic governance and an end to political paralysis, the second surge represents an astonishing abdication… Instead of using the respite to build up stocks of personal protective equipment, boost vaccine production or ramp up testing, he (Modi) returned to a business-as-usual governance. He and his alter ego, Minister for Home Affairs Amit Shah, focused their energies on caricaturing opposition politicians, harassing political dissidents and claiming at a World Economic Forum meeting that India had crushed the virus…. What’s more, an instinct to protect Modi’s Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) led it to permit party stalwarts to peddle all sorts of medical quackery. Some local party leaders suggested that practicing yoga and using cow urine as a disinfectant could ward off the virus. Vijay Chauthaiwale, the head of the national party’s foreign affairs department, encouraged the consumption of bovine urine and turmeric as possible cures… Modi’s haughty decision-making style predates the pandemic by years… Now that public parks are becoming temporary crematoria, patients are lying on the sidewalks outside hospitals, and ambulances (when available) lack oxygen, Modi’s associates have resorted to more drastic, albeit familiar, tactics: They argue that the government’s critics are merely seeking to sow nationwide discord. Delhi is now pressuring social media outlets like Facebook and Instagram to take down posts that are critical of its handling of the crisis….But the haphazard, abrupt approach to critical public policy questions now haunts Modi in ways he can no longer deflect…. Despite efforts to squelch the bad press, everyone knows who is to blame for the fatal disaster unfolding today.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been accused of ignoring scientific warnings to participate in election rallies and allowing a massive Hindu festival to go ahead in northern India…Dr Navjot Dahiya, the vice-president of the Indian Medical Association, called Mr Modi a “super spreader” who had “tossed all Covid norms in the air”….The BBC’s Yogita Limaye says many people are asking why the military and disaster response teams have not been put on a war footing to build field hospitals… “There is a sense of abandonment in the country, of people being left to fend for themselves,” our correspondent reports.
Last week, Brazil’s total death toll from COVID-19 passed 400,000. In India, the pandemic is taking around 3,500 lives every day and has prompted a global response, with offers of oxygen, ventilators, intensive-care beds and more. Although these two countries are thousands of miles apart, the crises in both are the result of political failings; their leaders have either failed or been slow to act on researcher’s advice. This has contributed to an unconscionable loss of life….India’s leaders have not acted as decisively as was needed. They have, for example, allowed – and in some cases, encouraged – large gathers. Such a situation isn’t new. As we saw during the administration of former US president Donald Trump, ignoring evidence of the need to maintain physical distancing to combat COVID-19 has catastrophic consequences. The United States has recorded more than 570,000 deaths from the disease – still the world’s largest COVID-19 death toll in absolute terms…And India has other problems. One is that it’s not easy for scientists to access data for COVID-19 research. That, in turn, prevents them from providing accurate predictions and evidence-based advice to the government. Even in the absence of such data, researchers warned the government last September to be cautious about relaxing COVID-19 restriction (Lancet 396,8672020) And as late as the start of April, they warned that a second wave could see 100,000 COVID-19 cases a day by the end of the month… On 29 April, more than 700 scientists wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, asking for better access to data such as COVID-19 test results and clinical outcomes of patients in hospitals (seego.nature.com/3vd7fak) … A letter of protest shouldn’t have been necessary in the first place. By identifying themselves, the signatories took a risk; in the past, the Modi government has not reacted well to researchers organizing to question its policies. …It’s never good when research communities have a difficult relationship with the national governments. … By side-lining their scientists, the governments of Brazil and India have missed out on a crucial opportunity to reduce the loss of life…During a pandemic, we all need our governments to succeed. However, it’s difficult to make good decisions quickly, more so with incomplete information – which is why health data need to be both accurate and accessible to researchers and clinicians. Denying or obscuring such access risks prolonging the pandemic.
The Lancet 08-05-21
The scenes of suffering in India are hard to comprehend. As of May 4, more than 20·2 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported, with a rolling average of 378 000 cases a day, together with more than 222 000 deaths, which experts believe are likely to be substantial underestimates. Hospitals are overwhelmed, and health workers are exhausted and becoming infected. Social media is full of desperate people (doctors and the public) seeking medical oxygen, hospital beds, and other necessities. Yet before the second wave of cases of COVID-19 began to mount in early March, Indian Minister of Health Harsh Vardhan declared that India was in the “endgame” of the epidemic. The impression from the government was that India had beaten COVID-19 after several months of low case counts, despite repeated warnings of the dangers of a second wave and the emergence of new strains. Modelling suggested falsely that India had reached herd immunity, encouraging complacency and insufficient preparation, but a serosurvey by the Indian Council of Medical Research in January suggested that only 21% of the population had antibodies against SARS-CoV-2. At times, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Government has seemed more intent on removing criticisms on Twitter than trying to control the pandemic….
Despite warnings about the risks of super-spreader events, the government allowed religious festivals to go ahead, drawing millions of people from around the country, along with huge political rallies—conspicuous for their lack of COVID-19 mitigation measures. The message that COVID-19 was essentially over also slowed the start of India’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign, which has vaccinated l ess than 2% of the population. At the federal level, India’s vaccination plan soon fell apart. The government abruptly shifted course without discussing the change in policy with states, expanding vaccination to everyone older than 18 years, draining supplies, and creating mass confusion and a market for vaccine doses in which states and hospital systems competed….
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates that India will see a staggering 1 million deaths from COVID-19 by Aug 1. If that outcome were to happen, Modi’s Government would be responsible for presiding over a self-inflicted national catastrophe. India squandered its early successes in controlling COVID-19. Until April, the government’s COVID-19 taskforce had not met in months. The consequences of that decision are clear before us, and India must now restructure its response while the crisis rages. The success of that effort will depend on the government owning up to its mistakes, providing responsible leadership and transparency, and implementing a public health response that has science at its heart.