Alarming second wave
In spite of adequate forewarning, India's preparedness for the second wave of Covid-19 is appalling and found wanting
If last year was bad, this one is setting new standards of pain and suffering. India reported over two lakh Covid-19 cases in a day, announcing to the world that we are well and truly deep into the second wave of the pandemic. Our daily lives are inundated with tweets, posts, WhatsApps, calls, and texts of people desperately seeking hospital beds, Remdesivir, or oxygen. Within a few short weeks, how did we go, from patting ourselves on the back for kicking the virus in the groin and outperforming even the developed world, to find ourselves in this pathetic juncture of chaos and death?
Most countries afflicted by the Coronavirus have had second and third phases; experts had warned about the impending second wave last year itself. So, did we learn no lessons from 2020 when the number of new cases was much less? Why are we so well-prepared for elections but not for the second wave that was a long time coming? And the tamasha playing out while people die like flies is ironic, foolish, and alarming. Millions are gathering for 'Shahi Snans' at the Kumbh Mela with over 1,200 already testing positive; and most not being tested at all. These pilgrims will surely take the virus back to their homes, cities, and villages, and infect several others. How was the Tablighi Jamaat incident in Delhi a 'super-spreader' of the virus while Kumbh Mela a benign event? The gods must surely be livid at the colossal failure of better sense and human judgement, not to mention the mockery made of human lives by the central and state governments. Faith is essential, dumbness is avoidable.
Board exams can and have been postponed but not elections. Our politicians are so drunk on power and greedy to topple ruling state governments that in the middle of a global pandemic, we have been holding election rallies attended by thousands of mask-less Covid idiots. Take Bengal for instance, never before has the state witnessed eight phases of elections and that too in a Covid year. Appeals to the Election Commission of India (ECI) to hold the remaining three phases together has been rejected. Who are the real masters of the ECI? Surely, not the people of India or even their conscience. How are we endangering the lives of thousands of people by holding huge rallies? Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to hold at least six more rallies in the state. I wish he would address the nation on how the government is planning to tackle the grave Covid-19 situation. And Sir, please no 'thali' beating; give us concrete plans on how the medical infrastructure and vaccine production are being ramped up. The PM and his cabinet are at present electioneering in Bengal rather than handling the severe outbreak. Less politics, more governance please!
Which brings me to 'Tika Divas' — how do we celebrate this day? There are no vaccines! Considering that the second wave is infecting the younger lot, when will under-45-year-olds be vaccinated? Don't their lives matter? Vaccine shortage also means that many, like my mother, who got her first dose a few weeks ago, are having to wait for the second dose. India's vaccination drive has been painfully slow and one of the worst in the world. Surely, we knew that inoculating at least 50 per cent population was our best chance against the deadly virus. So, while we exported to other nations, our own population suffered. Sputnik V just received the nod for emergency use; why weren't other vaccines allowed into the Indian market? So many questions surrounding the government's lack of foresight remain unanswered.
What is needed now are quick, effective solutions. Stadiums need to be converted to emergency Covid care centres, so that the infected don't die in cars or at home without care. We will need more medical staff; the government must look at quickly training non-medical healthcare workers and volunteers, so that they can help the crumbling medical system. The government must act urgently to replenish Remdesivir supplies and offer adequate support to increase vaccine production on war-footing. Beg, borrow, coerce, use diplomatic channels — but get this done. Vaccination drives need to move with speed and aggressively help people overcome bias and fear of the vaccine. The private sector has to step in where ever possible to soften the blow caused by this second wave. This is the time for philanthropy; a time to open up hearts and purse-strings. If our politicians diverted even one-third of their election coffers to set up emergency medical infrastructure, it would prove a boon to thousands.
Who do we hold responsible for the colossal mess that we find ourselves in? The common man who dropped his guard when new cases plummeted, all sectors opened, and he set out to earn his daily bread and set right months of economic hardship? But there is no excuse for not wearing masks or maintaining social distancing whether it's at a Goa party or Ugadi celebrations in Kurnool. The Covid-19 virus is an act of God but the preparedness for it lay in the hands of men and women in the government. When we see skies turning an orange hue lit up by funeral pyres, heart-wrenching videos and pictures of families breaking down in grief at the passing away of a loved one, or read accounts of medical staff that are once again overworked and overburdened — we know that our leaders have failed us.
The writer is an author and media entrepreneur. Views expressed are personal