In early March, Indian Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said the country was “at the end” of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mr Vardhan also praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership as “an example for the world in international co-operation”. From January onwards, India began delivering doses to foreign countries as part of its lauded “vaccination diplomacy”.
Mr Vardhan’s unbridled optimism was based on a sharp drop in registered infections. With a peak of more than 93,000 cases per day on average in mid-September, infections have been steadily declining. By mid-February, India was reporting an average of 1
The euphoria from the victory over the virus has been accumulating since the end of last year. Politicians, politicians and parts of the media believed that India was indeed outside the forest. In December, central bank officials announced that India was “twisting the curve of Kovid’s infection.” There is evidence, they said, in poetic terms, that the economy “erupts in the winter’s shadowing shadows toward a place of sunlight.” Mr. Modi was called a “vaccine guru.”
At the end of February, India’s electoral authorities announced key elections in five countries, where 186 million people were eligible to vote for 824 seats. At the beginning of March 27, the polling stations will be extended for a month, and in the case of the state of West Bengal, they will be held in eight phases. The campaign had begun in full swing, with no safety protocols or social distancing. In mid-March, the cricket board allowed more than 130,000 fans, mostly without masks, to watch two international cricket matches between India and England at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Gujarat.
In less than a month, things began to unravel. India was in the hands of a devastating second wave of the virus, and cities faced new blockades. As of mid-April, the country had registered an average of more than 100,000 cases a day. On Sunday, India registered more than 270,000 cases and more than 1,600 deaths, both new one-day records. If the runway infection is not checked, India could report more than 2,300 deaths each day until the first week of June, according to a Commission report by Lancet Covid-19.
India is currently in the hands of a public health emergency. Social media feeds are full of videos of Covid’s funerals in crowded cemeteries, sobbing relatives of the dead outside hospitals, long queues of ambulances carrying breathless patients, mounds full of the dead, and patients, sometimes two by the bed, in hallways and hospital lobbies. There are frantic calls for help with beds, medications, oxygen, essential medications and tests. The drugs are sold on the black market, and the test results take days. “I was not told for three hours that my child was dead,” said a stunned mother in a video sitting in front of the intensive care unit. The cry of another person outside the intensive care unit breaks the silence.
Even mammoth vaccination efforts in India are now struggling. Initially, implementation was involved in a controversy over the effectiveness of a home-grown candidate. Even as the country speeds up efforts and receives more than 100 million doses by last week, vaccine shortages have been reported. The Serum Institute in India, the country’s largest vaccine maker, said it would not be able to increase supplies before June because it did not have enough money to expand capacity. India placed a temporary suspension on all exports of the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, as the doses were urgently needed at home, and allowed the import of foreign vaccines. Oxygen will probably be imported now to meet growing demand.
Meanwhile, in an almost parallel universe, far from death and despair, every night the richest cricket tournament was played behind closed doors and tens of thousands of people followed their leaders to election rallies and attended the Hindu festival of Coombe Mela. “What is happening is beyond the surreal,” Shiv Viswanathan, a sociology professor, told me.
Experts believe the government appears to have completely dropped the ball in the second wave of infections that would hit India.
In mid-February, Tabassum Barnagarwala, a journalist with the Indian Express, noted a sevenfold increase in new cases in parts of Maharashtra and said samples of those infected had been sent for genome sequencing to look for imported variants.
At the end of the month, the BBC reported on the wave and asked if India was facing a new Covid wave. “We really don’t know what the cause of the wave is. What worries us is that whole families are getting infected. This is a whole new trend,” said Dr Shyamsunder Nikam, a civilian surgeon in the affected area in Maharashtra. time.
Experts now say that the vote for India’s exclusivity in “defeating” the epidemic – a younger population, local immunity, a largely rural population – and declaring victory against the virus proved brutally premature. “As is typical of India, official arrogance, hypernationalism, populism and a great deal of bureaucratic incompetence have combined to create a crisis,” said Mihir Sharma, a Bloomberg columnist.
The second wave of India is fueled by people who leave their guard, attend weddings and social gatherings, and through mixed messages from the government, allowing political rallies and religious gatherings. With infections declining, fewer people are taking strikes, delaying vaccination, which aimed to inoculate 250 million people by the end of July. In mid-February, Bhramar Mukherjee, a biostatist at the University of Michigan, tweeted that India should “speed up vaccination while the number of cases is low.” Nobody noticed.
“There was a sense of triumph,” said P. Srinat Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India. “Some thought we had achieved herd immunity. Everyone wanted to go back to work. This story fell on very receptive ears and the few voices of caution were ignored,” he said.
A second wave may have been inevitable, but India could have “postponed or slowed it down and reduced its impact,” said Gautam Menon, a professor of physics and biology. Like many other countries, India had to begin careful genomic surveillance in January to find options, Mr Menon said. Some of these options may be the cause of the wave. “We learned about new options in February from reports from Maharashtra. This was initially denied by the authorities,” Mr Menon added. “It was a significant turning point.”
What are the lessons of this public health crisis? First, India must learn not to declare victory over the virus prematurely and must end triumphalism. People must also learn to adapt to short local blockages in the event of unavoidable future peaks of infection. Most epidemiologists predict more waves, given that India is still far from reaching herd immunity and its vaccination remains slow.
“We can’t freeze human life,” said Professor Reddy. “If we can’t physically get away in crowded cities, we can at least make sure everyone wears a proper mask. And wear it properly.