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A Human-made Tragedy: India’s COVID-19 crisis

A year ago, the coronavirus took economies, societies, and governments by surprise, unleashing unprecedented havoc on health sectors from all around the world. Thus, the world scrambled to survive the pandemic’s first wave, and in some ways, it did. Unfortunately, though that experience should’ve set the world on the semi-right track of surviving the ongoing epidemic, human mistakes worsened the situation during the second and third waves.  India is now suffering the consequences of such errors pilling on top of new covid-19 variants, economic tragedies, and a strained health system.

Out of control

Just a few months ago, life in India was returning back to normal. Schools opened their doors, weddings were filled with laughter, and even politicians returned to their campaign trails. Thus, the Indian government spread a positive mindset in the country, assuring the victory against the pandemic. However, even as cases started to rise again, the government’s positive attitude didn’t flatter. 

Thus, two months later, India started to reach and break the world’s COVID-19 infection records every day. Since April, India has been reporting at least 300,000 infections per day and the death of at least 1,000 individuals.

Avoidable outcome

Though India was already suffering from strained infrastructures, a collapsing economy, and an expensive health system, experts believe that the country could have avoided the current crisis. By acting earlier, the government would have raised awareness instead of spreading nonchalant behaviors. “It is the virus, but it’s way more than the virus,” says Sumit Chanda, an infectious disease expert at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute in California. “It’s equal parts complacency and incompetence.” Therefore, when the government’s “mission-accomplished” mentality took hold of the society, ignorance prevailed. As a result, many of those who took precautions during the first wave believed that the worst was over and abandoned their masks.

“By early March, it was really starting to be clear, and by late March, we had flashing red lights,” Brown’s Jha says. “Even then, the government was largely acting like there wasn’t anything serious going on.” 

Questionable vaccination strategy

In the fight against this ongoing tragedy, the vaccine remains the best weapon. However, even though India is one of the countries manufacturing the vaccine, as of May 2, only 2 percent of India’s population received the two doses of the vaccine. Moreover, 9.2 percent of the Indian population received at least the first vaccine dose.

The government even pulled a controversial move that allows producers to sell half of their supply directly to states and the private sector at different prices. This move didn’t only create vaccine inequity, but it also allowed greed to profit in a time of crisis.

“There’s always a tension between profits and public health,” says Madhavi Yennapu, senior principal scientist at the National Institute of Science Technology and Development Studies (NISTADS) in New Delhi. “But we can’t leave things to the market if we want public health objectives to be met.”

A graveyard of the young

In the beginning, the world mostly feared for the elderly and the vulnerable from the deadly clutches of the pandemic. However, as the virus continues to mutate, new variants are killing the youth and elderly alike. 

“During the first wave of the coronavirus last year, the government was appeasing us by saying that the country’s fatalities were low and that only the elderly were dying. But now? Look around; it seems like a graveyard of the young,” said Ashish Ramola, an Indian journalist. 

“From vaccination drives which began late to underprepared hospitals, a deficiency of doctors and medical staff, the flourishing grey market for life-saving drugs like remdesivir and oxygen cylinders which are being sold to desperate families at staggering rates, everything is skewed. On top of that, there’s bickering among political parties over who is responsible for the country’s horrific COVID mismanagement. There’s no accountability, only buck-passing.”

‘Double mutant’ variant

The new variant, also known as the double mutant, is the  B.1.617. Though it carries two known mutations, many experts are against calling it a double mutation. “The mutations in the B.1.617 have been studied independently, but not in combination,” explained virologist Benjamin Pinsky. 

However, experts aren’t sure whether the new variant is behind the surge in India’s infection numbers. “The so-called fast-spreading variant still in the country is about 10 percent, so that means 90 percent of the cases in the current sense are something else, not a double mutant,” said Rakesh Mishra of the Indian Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology.

References:

Bajekal, N. (2021, April 29). India’s COVID-19 Crisis Is Spiraling Out of Control. It Didn’t Have to Be This Way. Time. https://time.com/5964796/india-covid-19-failure/Chandrashekhar, V. (2021, May 4). How fast can vaccines solve India’s COVID-19 crisis? It’s complicated. Science. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/how-fast-can-vaccines-solve-indias-covid-19-crisis-its-complicatedChughtai, A. (2021, May 5). Did India get its COVID vaccine strategy wrong? Coronavirus Pandemic News | Al Jazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/5/4/worlds-largest-covid-vaccine-drive-in-disarrayLal, N. (2021, May 6). India COVID crisis: ‘A graveyard of the young.’ Coronavirus Pandemic | Al Jazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2021/5/6/india-covid-crisis-a-graveyard-of-theMishra, S. (2021, May 4). This “double mutant” variant is adding fuel to India’s COVID-19 crisis. Science. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/this-double-mutant-variant-is-adding-fuel-to-indias-covid-19-crisis