India, like the rest of the world, has struggled with the coronavirus. The number of patients at the covid hospital reached a hundred and thirty in the fall. Still, by December of 2020, life in Delhi had almost returned to normal. The reopening of schools, temples, political rallies had resumed, Everyone assumed that Covid was eradicated.
But in March, cases started to rise in the western state of Maharashtra, home to Mumbai which is also the most populated city. Even the capital, New Delhi started seeing major spikes. Overnight hospitals were filled to capacity, supplies of medical oxygen have run short, and morgues and crematoriums have been overloaded with corpses. Patients are dying on hospital beds, in ambulances, and in carparks outside.
Today, India is home to the worst coronavirus outbreak in the world — a medical and humanitarian crisis on a scale not yet seen during the pandemic.
In many cases, volunteer groups have come to the rescue because the government has failed to provide even the most basic needs.
In an Interview — with Dinesh Singh
After suffering fever for several days, Dinesh Singh knew his COVID-19 symptoms were entering deadly territory.
His oxygen saturation was plummeting, and his breathing became increasingly laboured.
The 65-year-old lived in a remote Indian village in Uttar Pradesh and the closest city, where chances of finding spare medical oxygen were best, was three hours away.
"We spent an entire night driving from one hospital to another hospital," his son-in-law Deepak Singh said.
"There were no oxygen support beds available in any hospital."
The family sent out an SOS message on social media, like many others during the latest COVID-19 crisis, tagging senior bureaucrats in the city.
But after failing to attract the attention of prominent journalists, politicians, or activists, the message went virtually unnoticed.
By the time the family secured an oxygen cylinder on the black market, paying three times the normal price, it was too late.
Though the reported case numbers are in the hundreds of thousands, some experts estimate that millions of Indians are infected each day; thousands are dying, with more deaths going uncounted or unreported. More than one in every five coronavirus tests returns positive — a marker of insufficient testing and rampant viral spread. If this wasn’t bad enough — New variants of Covid-19 are emerging which are even more deadly and spread faster.
New Varients of Coronavirus
The second or third-generation versions of the COVID-19 variant known as B.1.617 may already be circulating in India and maybe more dangerous
Professor William Haseltine (FormerHarvard Medical School)
The good news is that the vaccines work against the new virus strain circulating in India. But it won’t be only the new version of the pathogen to emerge from an outbreak of this scale, underscoring the urgency of mapping other possible variants that may be currently racing through India’s tightly-packed population of 1.4 billion people.
What Government is doing?
As millions suffer in the pandemic, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is building a new parliament that will be costing taxpayers more than $2 Billion. Many have questioned the Modi government’s priorities, asking it to focus on the scaling up of healthcare infrastructure, including hospitals, ICU beds, and the supply of oxygen. Opposition Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi said — That money can be used to fully vaccinating 45 crore Indians or, for 1 crore oxygen cylinders.
Even Global Media heavily criticized Modi — The UK’s Daily Mail called the project ‘The monstrous monument to Narendra Modi’s ego’
India has a population of 1.4 billion and had an excellent start to its vaccination programme. It is also home to one of the biggest manufacturers of vaccines in the world: the Serum Institute of India (SII), which was making and exporting millions of vaccines to other countries as cases were coming down in India.
“Vaccinating 30 crore people would have required 65 crore shots, considering some wastage. Of this, a maximum of 15 crore shots would come from Bharat Biotech. But at a monthly production capacity of 5–7 crore, SII would anyway struggle to supply the remaining 50 crore doses by July. There was simply no room for export,” said the consultant.
Yet, until the end of March, India was vaccinating fewer people at home than the number of doses it was sent overseas. Consider these:
- In the first two weeks of the vaccination drive since January 16, India inoculated 39 lakh people. By January end, the country had already exported 1.6 crore doses.
- In February, India administered another 1.1 crore shots while exporting 2.1 crore doses.
- By April 1, when the country extended the vaccination drive to everyone above 45, India’s domestic vaccine delivery caught up with the export count at around 6.5 crore shots.
Less than three months from the July deadline, India has so far administered around 15.5 crore vaccine shots or 25% of the target. From over 35 lakh each day in the first week of April, vaccine shortage forced the daily inoculation count down to around 21 lakh in the last week of April. The daily average has further dropped to below 16 lakh in May.
India’s Government focused more on exporting vaccine rather than vaccinating its own population.
While the government has also allowed vaccine import, the first entrant — Russia’s Sputnik V — may not be available until June. SII’s second vaccine candidate, Covavax, will not be available in India before September.
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