The first wave of Covid in India revealed that those running the government were clueless. The second was exposed their sheer incompetence. And now, during the ongoing third wave of the pandemic, it is becoming very clear that those at the top of the governance pyramid have become supremely indifferent to the plight of the public.
This is at least the experience of citizens of Madhya Pradesh, where the Omicron virus has spread far and wide in both urban and rural areas, leaving them struggling to cope with the impact minus any support from government agencies. Luckily for them the new virus variant happens to be much milder than the earlier versions but in terms of anxiety, fear and above all expenses on medications the suffering of ordinary folks is as intense as in earlier waves.
“After a cold, my father’s health got worse. He had high fever. Our neighbours gave him some paracetamol. It took two days to get relief from the fever but there was still severe pain in the throat. After investigation, it was found that he was Covid positive. The test report was sent over the mobile phone but no one came to enquire about his Covid infection. No medicines were provided. Thanks to a doctor nearby we got the medicines, costing around Rs. 1500 and got cured”.
This is the experience recounted by Iqbal Mia, who lives in old part of Bhopal city and works in a clothes shop. He and his brother are the only earners in the entire family. They have lost close relatives during the second Covid wave due to lack of oxygen or proper healthcare. The government he says has not learnt any lesson and all so called preparations are only on paper. Every house has sick people and the government is claiming that cases are decreasing.
“Most of the members of my family, including me, also had symptoms of cold, fever and we all have been cured by the medicines we got near our house. We never had much hope of help from the government earlier and now there is none at all. The government has left the people to their own fate” says Iqbal. According to him there is no provision for examination and treatment of patients. Screening of the population for Covid is being done just for appearances at railway stations, different street crossings, hospitals and bus stands. If someone is found infected with Covid after investigation there is no follow up.
On an average, only 72000 people are being tested for corona daily in Madhya Pradesh. Of these, on an average, 8 to 9000 are testing positive. The total population of MP is 75 million as per the 2011 census. The testing rate is grossly inadequate for such a large population.
“Every household in rural areas is sick. The symptoms of the disease are exactly like Covid infection. There is a cold, throat pain, mild cough. There is fever and headache but there is no investigation at all. Only a few people are getting tested. They are taking medicines from shops near their homes and managing somehow, says Sandeep Singh of Pipariya, a tehsil of Hoshangabad district.
According to him the condition of people in rural areas is very difficult and no one knows the true extent of Covid as no testing is being done. While the number of deaths is low this time he feels the lack of response from the government is worrying because if things took a turn for the worse the situation could become disastrous, as was the case during the second Covid wave last year.
Over 959,000 people tested positive for Covid in Madhya Pradesh since the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020 of whom 10,616 died, as per official data. Some studies have estimated that the actual number of deaths could be up to four times higher.
On average a sick person is spending Rs.1000-1500 rupees on medicines. One prescription from a doctor is being shared by everyone to save on costs. Many are avoiding testing also because they are worried about the expense involved in getting treatment” says Lanfu Kunbi, a resident of Betul’s Borgaon.
According to him more than 20 villagers died here during the second wave of Corona. At that time the administration had silenced all those who were trying to speak out. Since then the villagers are not ready to say anything and even if they do, there is no one to listen to them.
Lumphu Kunbi says that many villagers who have been vaccinated are also getting infected and suffering. This is raising doubts in their minds about the very utility of getting the vaccines and encouraging vaccine hesitancy.
“ I survived the first and second waves but have got infected during the third one despite being vaccinated. Now I do not understand who is to blame, because I did not ignore anything from my side and followed all the Covid guidelines. Right now I am battling high fever and fear that my wife and little child may get infected because of me” laments Pankaj Pandey, who lives in the Mandideep Industrial Area outside Bhopal. He is the only bread earner in the house and has not gone to office for 9 days and is worried that his salary will be cut due to the absence.
“There is no hope of getting helping for even one rupee from the government. In the last so many days, I have spent five thousand rupees on treatment” he says. If his health does not get better soon he feels there will be a crisis as he cannot expect help from anywhere.
Ashok Kapse is a journalist based in Bhopal