COVID-19 Second Wave: India Continue To Reel Under A Spell Of Death And Disease!

It has been the most horribly painful and depressing week of my life. There has been the spectre of death and unimaginable sufferings of fellow countrymen across India, from which you cannot turn away; reports are there in all news channels, something even the decidedly pro-government media cannot but report, reports and personal accounts across all social media platforms, the dread of the sudden telephone calls and so on. I am reminded of the horrors suffered by Italy and Spain last year, and shiver to imagine a full repetition in a vast and densely populated country like India; the saving grace so far being that the fatality rate here is fortunately still much lower than witnessed in Italy, Spain and other European countries; but even then, in terms of population the Indian numbers in infections and deaths are numbing, and the mutants are more lethal taking toll equally on the young and the old.      


The heart wrenching scenes are everywhere to behold: people crowding the hospitals for admission and on being denied forced to lie down on the streets/pavements/corridors and dying there due to lack of oxygen and medical treatment; patients dying in ambulances after waiting hours for admission and an oxygen cylinder; people dying in many hospitals, mostly in the national capital Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, due the erratic supply of oxygen; no relief even after dying as relatives of the dead patients have to wait hours, first for the ambulances or at the unending queue before the crematoriums with the ominous pyres burning day and night; people watching helplessly their inability to save their near and dear ones either in hospitals or in home isolation as they have to struggle for the precious oxygen cylinder; and huge queues before the vaccination centres with the most vulnerable senior citizens thus exposed for hours as the shortage of the vaccine doses continues still.


For the 7th consecutive day today the daily new infections in India have been in excess of an incredible (as compared to the first pandemic peak of around 97000 last year) mark of 3 Lakh, that is 3,00,000, and the daily deaths crossing the 2000 mark and even the 3000 mark in the last 24 hours. Such daily figures of new infections and fatalities are never witnessed before in any country of the world. Two days back the daily new cases crossed 3.5 Lakh and the next day a sense of a false relief was created with the new cases coming down to around 3.23 Lakh, because it has again risen to 3, 60,960 in the last 24 hours and the devastating figure of fatalities at 3293, with total COVID-19 deaths also crossing the 2-Lakh mark. The total number of active cases is approaching the never-before 3 million mark, and total pandemic infections closing on the 18 million mark, with the last few millions added in just days.


Whatever ‘light’ we seemed to see in our last post turned out to be a mirage, because all shortages of vaccines, oxygen, hospital beds, medicines, burial or cremation spots continue unabated. Despite the decision to cover all above the age of 18 for vaccination from the 1st of May 2021, the shortage of the doses is yet to be resolved, with the seemingly crucial decision to decentralize the buying/distribution of vaccination turning out to be discriminatory. Within days of the decision the two vaccine manufacturers of India, the Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech, announced the prices: the SII fixing Rs.400/- per dose for state governments and Rs. 600/- per dose for private hospitals while Bharat Biotech fixing a quite a high price of Rs. 1200/- per dose for the states and private hospitals. The feature of the discrimination is that both the firms are going to continue selling the vaccines @150 INR to the Government of India, the biggest bulk purchaser, and that the vaccines are going to be free at all government hospitals across India.


While the vaccine manufacturers have no other option but to increase the prices to make the production economically viable, the Indian states, with their limited resources, have been singled out for discrimination; and most of the states have already been forced to declare free vaccines due to the politics of vaccination started by none other than the national ruling party. The Government of India has been boasting of ‘one nation, one identity’, but it has failed miserably to ensure ‘one nation, one vaccination’ ideally based on a uniform buying price and then the provision of free vaccine doses for everyone everywhere across the country. It is feared by many economists/experts that such a differential discriminatory pricing policy would lead to lopsided distribution and even black marketing.


Further, although the supply of oxygen can done only by the central government there has been politics of allegations and charges between it and the state governments, as patients continue to struggle, gasp and die from the continuing shortage of oxygen. The bone of contention is apparently clear: while the medial liquid oxygen or oxygen 02 is never in shortage in terms of overall production across the country, the problem is of transporting it to the desired destinations through the extremely limited tankers and cylinders which are mostly at the disposal of the respective state governments.


There has been no admission of the naked shortcomings or apology for the unfortunate deaths from the central government whose supreme leader continues to speak his mind to the nation every month, but never wanting to know the minds of his citizens or deciding to admit the hardship and deaths caused to his subjects due to the scarcity. Some state governments also cannot escape the blame of indulging in mindless politics. For example, the Chief Minister of the worst-hit Delhi region by oxygen shortage seems to have only allegations to make rather than doing something concrete, and besides, he has been doing the unpardonable act of appearing in advertising spots across the news channels and spending tons of money at that. The Delhi High Court had to come in the act by severely criticizing both the central and the state governments.


And yes, polling yet to conclude in West Bengal with the last phase taking place tomorrow, the 29th May. With just two phases and around two days left for rallies the Election Commission of India (ECI) finally had done the ‘too little too late’ act, banning political rallies, but still allowing public meetings of up to 500 attendees, it is not being clear under which COVID protocol. This too, had come after scathing attack on the ECI by the Kolkata and then the Madras High courts respectively.


Experts are hoping for a peak in mid-May for the second COVID-19 wave in India; however, at what more costs we are even scared to guess, if it comes at all. This huge man-made human tragedy (warnings available early as January 2021 regarding new mutants from UK, Brazil and South Africa that in the meantime having had the Indian forms of the devastating 'double mutant' or even 'triple mutant' were totally ignored) has, obviously, put the health infrastructure under the severest of pressures that led to avoidable loss of precious lives. Accidental hospital fires and other accidents arising out of the chaos add to the absolute disaster. But our ‘leaders’ would not still budge from politicking, and would rush to take credit whenever the second wave comes under control and the peak reached. We have to ask the question: are we Indians the citizens of a democracy or are just the expendables, considering the hopeless numbers of us thronging the miserable country? A question our imperious rulers would never bother about; the onus is on us only to pray and stay safe. 


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