India Under Siege From Covid-19: The Worst Yet to Come

11 Mei 2021

A relative wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) attends the funeral of his family member who died from Covid, at one of the biggest cremation grounds in New Delhi on 26 April. (Seemapuri Cremation Ground/File-Amit Sharma)

By Sania Farooqui
NEW DELHI, India, May 11 2021 (IPS)

The Coronavirus infections and deaths in India recorded a daily high on Monday, 10 May, with 366,161 new infections and 3,754 deaths as reported by the Indian health ministry, taking India’s total tally to 22.66 million with 246,116 deaths. Experts have raised a flag stating India’s actual figures could be far higher than what is currently being reported.

The rise in case numbers have been exponential in the second wave, and has been widely attributed to the B.1.1.7 variant, which was first identified in the U.K. and also a homegrown variant, called B.1.617, with double mutations. The World Health Organization has classified the B.1.617 variant as a variant of global concern, with some preliminary studies showing it spreads more easily.

Reopening of public places, crowded election rallies and big religious gatherings are being blamed for the uptick. The national vice-president of the Indian Medical Association (IMA) Dr Navjot Dahiya called Prime Minister Narendra Modi a ‘super spreader’ and blamed him for the second wave of COVID-19. In his interview given to an English Daily, Dr Dahiya said, “while the medical fraternity is trying hard to make people understand mandatory covid norms, PM Modi did not hesitate to address the big political rallies tossing all Covid norms in the air.” While the rallies were later converted to ‘virtual rallies’, people were still being called to watch and attend those virtual rallies in large gatherings.

People refill medical oxygen cylinders for Covid patients at an advanced gas refilling station in an upside industrial area in Agra, Uttar Pradesh on 3 May. (Oxygen Refilling Centre, Agra-File-Amit Sharma)

India, which is one of the largest economies in the world, spends only 1 % of its GDP on its healthcare, making it even more difficult for public health systems to survive the burden of this pandemic. What’s worse is at a time when the government should have focused all its time, energy and effort in managing and organising a pandemic response, Prime Minister Modi chose to prioritise elections. The government turned away, ignoring all the helpless citizens who died on the streets, outside hospitals, in makeshift ambulances and homes, gasping for oxygen, medicine or any form of medical help. Right from the time when one is infected with Covid-19, till the time of death and cremation, there is no dignity. Bodies of suspected Covid patients are now found floating and washed up on the banks of Ganga in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. This report by NDTV states that “in the absence of any Covid protocols at rural crematoriums, locals fearful of further spread of the infection, families have been forced to consign the bodies in the river.”

These are not just reports and visuals, but lived experiences of hundreds and thousands of Indian citizens who have suffered, and have seen their family members and loved ones suffer from this ignorance, which could have easily been prevented, if this pandemic could only be a priority for the top brass who run the country.

A local cemetery working running on the ground collecting logs for funeral pyres, to perform the last rites for patients who died of Covid, on 29 April at the Ghazipur cremation ground in New Delhi. (Ghazipur Cremation Ground/File-Amit Sharma)

At a time when most Indian cities have run out of hospital beds, oxygen supplies and medicines, with crematoriums running day and night in several cities across the country, with people having to wait for hours to get the deceased cremated or buried, the government should pause and introspect what this outbreak is doing to the country. There has been an outpour of global support, with several countries sending oxygen cylinders, concentrators, ventilators and other medical gear for Indians. However spending $1.8B on rebuilding the capital’s historic center in the middle of a pandemic, also highlights the priorities of the current government.

The second wave in India stripped all Indians from the dignity and respect a state should have given its citizens, at a time of global crisis, even more for being democratically elected not once, but twice. It would have been easier to call out the failures of this government if they had atleast tried in preventing the second wave, but the top leaders were busy with election rallies and encouraging mass religious gatherings, the repurcursion of which we are yet to bear. BBC reports “Kumbh Mela pilgrims turn into super spreaders, stating “its disastrous”. West Bengal, a state where recent elections were held, continues to see sharp increase in Covid cases.

A local priest and relative of a family member who died from Covid watching a pyre burn at the Garh Ganga Ghat in Mukteshwar, in Uttar Pradesh on 4 May. (Mukteshwar, Hapur/ File-Amit Sharma)

Meanwhile it is the volunteers who have stepped up to save lives, and social media has become a life saving tool, for finding oxygen supplies and medical supplies. Strangers are going out of the way to help each other and do whatever to keep a person they perhaps don’t even know… alive. This should not have been the case. Amid such reports, there are also reports from the state of Uttar Pradesh, where the Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has asked officials to take action under the National Security Act and seize the property of individuals who spread “rumours” and propaganda on social media and try to “spoil the atmosphere”, as reported by The Hindu.

All adults in India are now eligible to be vaccinated, however the over-18 vaccination drive has been hit by vaccine shortage and technical issues with multiple users not being able to register on the website or get an appointment. Several states say they don’t have the doses to carry out the exercise.

A health worker wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) is seen collecting a swab sample of a person on the ground, along with his relatives at a district hospital in Agra, Uttar Pradesh on 3 May. (Covid Testing in Agra/ File-Amit Sharma)

Earlier in January, Prime Minister Modi had declared India as one of the countries that had successfully controlled the coronavirus. While addressing the World Economic Forum’s Davos Dialogue virtually on 28 Janury 2021, PM Modi said, “ India took a proactive public participation approach and developed a COVID-specific health infrastructure and trained its resources to fight Covid.” The exaggeration and early declaration of the government’s success was a self fulfilling prophecy, only to be proved catostrophic just a few weeks later. After all, “pyres tell the truth”, and India’s complaint media can only do so much to pin the blame on “the opposition, liberals, Muslims, activists, leftists, protestors, NGOs and other assorted “anti-nationals.”

Power of Positivity’ is that during a pandemic, when the country is battling a ‘variant of global concern’, in absence of robust healthcare system and pandemic management, the “positivity” from the Covid-19 virus infection, which unlike mere mortals, sees no religion, no caste, not even votes or vote banks, it only takes a virus particle, a spherical shell that protects a single long string of genetic material, inserts it into a human cell – to eventually just kill the body it ends up infecting.

Instead of asking the citizens to be positive, which most already are with Covid-19, the focus from the government should only be in restoring whatever little dignity is left for its citizens in India, and it will take a lot of effort to fight this “positivity” in the air. Health experts have already warned that a Covid third wave is inevitable in India. With an already collapsed and exhausted health care system and an aggressive variant spreading fast across the country, the government has very little time to fix these cracks, if it all it values the lives of its citizens.




Sania Farooqui is a journalist and filmmaker based out of New Delhi.