Now that we all have seen someone close in a friend or family succumbing to fatalities of COVID-19. The chilling sight of the mass pyres burning in the crematorium, relatives waiting for hours outside the crematorium to give the last rite to their loved ones, the unattended dead bodies dumped like a pile of garbage in a truck and hospitals, the wailing ambulance sirens; male, female, young, and old all gasping for the last breath, the health system crumbling like a stack of cards pointing to an imminent holocaust, all seems like a well-scripted futuristic sci-fi Hollywood movie.

The filmy script turned into a harsh reality and caught the largest democracy of the world totally off the guard barely a few months after India was basking in the glory of containing the first wave of COVID-19 more succinctly than the first world. Prime Minister Modi in his speech at World Economic Forum held at Davos in January 2021 had declared India’s victory over the Pandemic and ridiculed the scientific forecasts and forewarnings. A lack of Political accountability, commitment, and a conviction mixed with the arrogance of power by the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party led by Mr Modi has struck the Indians hard in the face, and the country is at the risk of blown away by a tsunami of death tolls. The Guardian, United Kingdom’s leading new paper states that the Indian Prime Minister’s overconfidence lies behind the country’s disastrous covid-19 response.

The unpredictable nature of the virus, the rate at which it is mutating, new lethal and infectious mutant strains surfacing now and then, and the limited understanding of the nature and symptoms of the infection have made the situation gone from bad to worse. While The virus could be mischievous and the prognosis and diagnosis of the symptoms are largely still vague, what was not vague since last year and was alarmed well in advance by scientific experts that the world would experience a robust and deadly second wave of COVID-19 and the consequences for a developing country like India with a limited health infrastructure could be disastrous.

India is leading in terms of the reported number of new active cases and daily deaths.  Close to four lakh new cases and more than three thousand deaths are being reported daily. If experts are to be believed, how staggering these numbers appear on the record, they represent only a tiny fraction of the virus spread. Bhramar Mukherjee, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan says, “official figures are a complete massacre of data; the real number of deaths are two to five times what is being reported”.

So, the logical question to ask is what has brought India into the present mess? If the country was well aware of the second wave hitting anytime soon, why did no concrete measures were taken?  Was the country with innumerable resources and manpower simply not ready for the pandemic? How did the lesser economies fare much better than the sixth-largest economy of the world? Or was it just a chronic complacency of political echelons with a different set of agenda and priorities on hand that brought this disaster?

While probing these questions could be a part of separate research, what distinguishes India from its neighbouring countries in the fight against coronavirus are the complete apathy and denial of basic citizen’s rights. The neighbouring countries with a small economy such as Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Bhutan have done reasonably good at containing the spread of the virus. One year was certainly not enough time to revamp and remodel the screwed and largely inaccessible India’s public health infrastructure, but this was not a little time either to prioritize the people’s health and wellbeing over commercial gains, political rhetorics, and incessant political rallies. The focus on public health infrastructure including primary health care could have been the one viable strategy, to begin with. This is the least that is expected from democratic institutions that promise to secure people’s lives and their wellbeing. The acute shortage of hospital beds, doctors and nurses, ICUs and the scarcity of the most basic equipment ‘oxygen cylinders’ highlights the abject apathy of the basic minimum needs of the citizens.

India is a pharma hub of the world and has designed its covid vaccine. Despite this, only a little over 1 per cent of the 1.3 billion Indian population is vaccinated as of now. A good share of vaccines has been exported to as many as 95 countries. When the whole country is desperately seeking oxygen cylinders, the official figures show India’s exports of medical oxygen has doubled this year in comparison to last year.  While vaccine diplomacy and trade of oxygen could be labelled as an inspiring and humanitarian effort of the highest order to save the lives of another country people, however, doing this at the cost of own citizen’s lives raises serious questions on the intent, competence, priorities and overall on the issue of governance.

The government has floundered at many fronts committed serious blunders and have shown a complete lack of human empathy and compassion while dealing with this pandemic. The pandemic in all probability could not have been averted, but its severity and scale with serious planning and political commitment could have been surely tamed down with simple preventive measures. In a democracy, an elected government is accountable for the health and wellbeing of its citizens. The callous and lackadaisical approach of government to not take this disaster and the lives of its people seriously, not assuring vaccines and basic health rights of its citizens have done more damage than the good.

Rahul Rauny, is a Public Health Research Scholar at the centre for social medicine and community health, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He has worked as a Commonwealth Fellow at the University of Sussex, United Kingdom. Email id: rahulcsmch@gmail.com


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