« Ultimately, the greatest lesson that COVID-19 can teach humanity is that we are all in this together. » – Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw

RAJ KHOOBLALL

India sees the worst phase of its health crisis ever since the start of the pandemic last year. It does not appear that the trend will be contained in the weeks to come especially with the emergence of the new, more contagious double and triple variant in the country. At the time of writing, India has recorded more than 17.6 million cases of COVID-19, and coronavirus infections in India have been hitting record high for the past few days with daily toll of more than 3.5 lakhs as more contagious variant fuels a surge in new cases. To make matters worse, many people think that the official count does not reflect the full story.

The healthcare system has just collapsed in Delhi, Mumbai and many other cities where almost all the hospitals are lacking ICU beds and are short of supply of oxygen. Even medical staff and equipment are not enough to cater for increasing COVID cases. Hospitals are overcrowded, with people left to die as they wait for treatment outside the hospital. Hundreds of patients have died on trolleys or hospital floors while some were provided medical care and oxygen right in their cars or street pavement. The disturbing images of people dying in ambulances and bodies burning on pyres in crematoriums and even on pavements across the streets clearly show that the tragedy is far greater than we could ever imagine. Honestly, I do not think any country is equipped to handle such magnitude of this pandemic so fast and so severe.

While social media posts reveal the scale of India COVID-19 crisis, it seems that the most vulnerable section of the population are the most affected. Some families (who can afford) have purchased much-needed oxygen cylinder from the market for their home treatment and they are even hiring nurses to assist in the treatment of their family members at home after they have been refused admission in many hospitals.

With this situation, many people have turned to the black market, where prices of essential medicines and oxygen cylinders have rapidly increased. But most of the Indian population cannot afford to do this. We are getting daily news of people dying at the doorsteps of hospitals as they couldn’t afford to buy medicines and oxygen on the market. On the other hand, we also saw images of rich people including famous film stars and their families leaving the country.

On the medical side, there are huge struggles for getting blood tests and CT scan or X-ray. Medical laboratories are overrun, thus, taking more time to get test results. This condition is making it harder for doctors to examine the progression of the disease which in turn put many patients at risk. PCR tests are also difficult to obtain and the results are taking days. Many hospitals are only admitting sick patients who have a positive COVID report while the rest are advised to be treated at home. Most hospitals do not have free beds (unless some patients are discharged or demised) and they cannot take new patients due to continuing uncertainty over the supply of oxygen.

Lack of oxygen supply

The limitation in the supply of oxygen has been one of the causes of death for several patients especially in Delhi and Mumbai. The city hospitals are in desperate states as they are left with little oxygen at their disposal. If this situation continues, I fear that a big tragedy may happen.

Indian government has nevertheless deployed military and special trains to procure oxygen from all over the country and bring them to the hospitals in need. The government has allowed many pharmaceutical companies to start manufacturing essential drugs for COVID in India while others have been asked to accelerate their existing production. But people believe that this decision for such mass production was taken too late and that the authority should have been prepared for the second wave well in advance.

The government responsibility

The country’s total death toll from coronavirus is now almost 200,000, next to the US and Brazil. The nationalist Prime Minister Modi has seen his popularity drop with heavy criticism of his handling of this second wave of the pandemic. The tragedy of India, however, did not occur overnight, complacency in adhering to masks and physical distancing have led to where they are today. The huge political rallies of BJP and the organization of the Hindu Kumbh mela (gathering of millions of people in the holy city of Haridwar) have left the population exposed to the virus. The government had underestimated the threat of the pandemic and was clearly not prepared for the second wave of such magnitude and for the new double and triple variants of the virus. People also do not believe in the official statistics of reported coronavirus cases and they are not happy that the country has been exporting millions of vaccines to other countries while the level of Indian vaccinated was still very low.

I think if the pandemic in India is not urgently brought under control, then the whole world will be at high risk, because the Indian variant is going to cross borders anytime. Countries across the world have expressed their concern over this unprecedented surge in COVID-19 cases in India. International efforts are underway to help India from the devasting surge of the pandemic. The USA has already pledged for an emergency assistance for the people of India who have been affected by the second wave of the pandemic. They are ready to supply a range of emergency items, including medicines, oxygen supplies, ventilators, and vaccine raw material. UK and EU are also sending ventilators and oxygen concentrator devices while neighboring countries like China and Pakistan stand ready (beyond their political differences) to offer all their full support and assistance to India in terms of supplies.

In the midst of covid crisis and oxygen scarcity, Indians, rich or poor, are doing their best to keep beathing. Let us join hands as we stand with India as the country continues to fight Covid-19 against all odds. May God bless India.