As India suffers the world’s worst coronavirus crisis, the fear of living amid a disease spreading at such scale and speed, crematories are so full of bodies, it’s as if a war just happened. Fires burn around the clock. Many places are holding mass cremations, dozens at a time, and at night, in umpteen cities of the country, the sky glows. Sickness and death are everywhere in the country.
India is now recording more infections per day, as many as 350,000, than any other country since the pandemic began, and that’s just the official number, which most experts think is a vast underestimation.
SPREADING SO FAST
The national scenario reveals that the infections have spread so fast that hospitals are completely swamped. People are turned away by the thousands. Medicines are running out. So is lifesaving oxygen. The sick left stranded in interminable lines at hospital gates or at home, literally gasping for air.
Experts had always warned that covid-19 could wreak real havoc in India. This country is enormous — 1.4 billion people. And densely populated. And in many places, very poor.
What is being witnessed is so different from 2020, during India’s first wave. Then, it was the fear of the unknown. Now we know. We know the totality of the disease, the scale, the speed. We know the terrifying force of this second wave, hitting everyone at the same time.
What one had been fearing during last year’s first wave, and which never really materialized, is now happening in front of our eyes: a breakdown, a collapse, a realization that so many people will die.
A new variant known as “the double mutant” may be doing a lot of the damage. The science is still early but from what is known, this variant contains one mutation that may make the virus more contagious and another that may make it partially resistant to vaccines. Doctors are pretty scared.
India is a story of scale, and it cuts both ways. It has a lot of people, a lot of needs and a lot of suffering. But it also has lot of technology, industrial capacity and resources, both human and material.
Epidemiologists say the numbers will keep climbing, to 500,000 reported cases a day nationwide and as many as one million Indians dead from Covid-19 by August.
India was doing well up until a few weeks ago, at least on the surface. It locked down, absorbed the first wave, then opened up. It maintained a low death rate (at least by official statistics). By winter, life in many respects had returned to something near normal. However, things changed for worst from mid-march onwards.
Many people are blaming Prime Minister Narendra Modi for failing to prepare India for this surge and for holding packed political rallies in recent weeks where few precautions were enforced — possible super-spreader events.
The people are upset with the sluggish pace of the vaccination campaign. Fewer than 10 percent of the population have received one dose, and only 1.6 percent is fully vaccinated, despite two vaccines being produced here.
(Dr Naresh Purohit is a Medical Expert and Advisor National Communicable Disease Control Programme. He is also Advisor to six other National Health Programmes and visiting Professor in five Medical Universities of Southern India including Thrissur based Kerala University of Health Sciences. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author)