As of early April, India has been experiencing a heart-wrenching second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. India’s case and death rates are currently the highest in the world, and show no signs of abating. There are reports actual rates may be many times higher. The wave has left no one in the country of 1.3 billion people unscathed. As our name implies, at South Asian Voices we care about giving voice to all contributors and a channel for individuals in the region to share experiences. We have published personal reflections from three of our India-based authors below.
As India sinks into a more dire situation day by day, I am surprised by how many in the government as well as a sizable proportion of ordinary citizens are lashing out at sections of national and international media for raising the alarm bells. Just recently I came across a LinkedIn post by a senior executive who questioned the “anti-India” bias of the media while pointing at the fact that the numbers aren’t that bad when compared to the rest of the world. This reminds me of the adage “one death is a tragedy a million is a statistic.”
What this argument tends to completely ignore is that, first, a large proportion of the deaths we’re seeing are not in fact COVID-19-deaths. These are people who succumbed to the disease simply due to the lack of access to healthcare facilities and medical intervention. People are turning to WhatsApp groups, social media and frantic public pleas just to secure oxygen cylinders, basic medicines and hospital beds. Just last week, I coordinated with friends and their friends to help someone secure a single strip of Fabiflu from a person who had recovered and was left an unused strip of meds.
This points not towards the lethality of the death. Instead, it highlights the inability of the government to set in place a proper chain of command, strengthen supply chain, prepare for the anticipated second wave by directing pharmaceutical and medical equipment manufacturers to ramp up production and distribution processes. All that the government had to do was establish a central command and nodal points at the regional, state and local levels. Imagine that counterfeit drug manufacturers have done a better job—they knew that the market will require COVID-19 medication and has managed to infiltrate pharmacies and hospitals.
What makes the current situation worse is that after sending the wrong message—organizing elections, mass religious gatherings—and declaring “triumph” over the disease, it refuses to take ownership or come up with a solution. India’s federalism is unlike that of the United States. This means the central government has the power to dictate terms in emergency situations. However, it has simply distanced itself and asked states to secure oxygen and vaccines.
All I can say is that I’m glad to see ordinary citizens coming together to help each other. All my social media groups are buzzing with (fewer) leads and (more) requests – from organizing food delivery services to metal welders providing free oxygen refueling services. It is quite extraordinary.
After organizing elections, mass religious gatherings, and declaring “triumph” over the disease, the government refuses to take ownership or come up with a solution.
Muhsin Puthan Purayil
India’s experience with the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has been beyond words.
When the first wave of the pandemic caused considerably less worry – especially from a medical point of view – than what experts predicted there would be, it seemed reasonable for many to assume that we won the war against COVID-19 and everything would soon begin to get back to normal. This initial resistance to the spread of the virus instilled a great sense of complacency among people and the government.
However, the sheer devastation caused by that the ongoing second wave of the pandemic has exposed, along with other factors, the false sense of security that we have been enjoying. It has impacted almost everyone, directly or indirectly. It is now heart-wrenching to see deaths, helplessness, and loneliness all around. There is a deluge of pain, fear, anxiety, and anger everywhere. Never was it anticipated that people would die gasping for oxygen. The public health system in the country is now struggling to handle the extreme volatility brought about by the multiple variants of the virus. Even as vaccination became imperative to fight the situation, how soon we can complete the daunting task of vaccinating the population of 1.38 billion remains a formidable challenge for the country, which is often touted as the pharmaceutical capital of the world.
Even amidst this despair and helplessness, there is a tremendous display of solidarity and resilience. Many good Samaritans have come forward to form virtual collectives through various social media platforms. They are helping people in distress in every possible way, including disseminating information about the availability of ICU beds and oxygen for COVID-19 patients and sending out cooked food to patients. International support from various countries and non-governmental organizations has also been remarkable, yet insufficient against the poor and now over-stretched Indian public health system. If there is one thing that this pandemic has taught us, it is the necessity to improve the healthcare system in the country. The persistently neglected government health system could not have functioned any better. We have learned it the hard way. Now it is time we acted upon it.
The public health system in the country is now struggling to handle the extreme volatility brought about by the multiple variants of the virus.
I do not know how to put in words the devastation this second wave has caused. I am currently in Kolkata where elections (and massive rallies) were until recently underway and we are scared about how transparent the government is about the numbers in the city. Terrible news is pouring in from our extended family and friends and we feel absolutely helpless.
As for Delhi and Maharashtra, the health care system has completely collapsed. The images of people dying as they gasp for breath, people desperately seeking help as they live-tweet their oxygen saturation numbers, hospitals sending out SOS messages pleading authorities to provide oxygen supplies, overcrowded crematoriums leave you feeling helpless, anxious and grateful to just be able to make it through the day without losing a loved one. The exorbitant price of the vaccines for the 18-45 years age group, uncertainty about when they will actually be available—although registration has opened on an online platform that barely works—adds to the anxiety. Faced with utter governance collapse, we have come to rely on volunteer-led efforts to gather information on something as basic as testing, as overburdened labs have a long waiting period to just book a slot. Everyday we wake up hoping the situation has gotten slightly better, but the morning news suggests otherwise.
The national vaccination policy is an absolute disaster that has left the underprivileged to fend for themselves. It is dismal out here. It is decisive proof of all-round governance failure.
Terrible news is pouring in from our extended family and friends and we feel absolutely helpless.
Image 1: WTOP News
Image 2: NurPhoto via Getty Images