COVID-19 second wave: India tackling the crisis on war-footing

India continues to reel under a relentless second wave of coronavirus. While urban India is showing a some semblance of order, rural India, particularly the interiors of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar – two of India’s most populous states -- have imploded and the situation has turned very grim.

According to a report in the Indian Express, “between May 2 and May 8, as many as 306 districts — just under half of the country — were reporting a positivity rate of more than 20 per cent.”

Without beds and doctors in hundreds villages spread across the vastness of India, how can any system, reach out to the millions who need urgent/immediate help in this pandemic?

There is a proverb in Gujarati (the language heavily influenced by Persian) Aabh fate tyan thingdu kem devay? How can you do patchwork on the sky when it has completely burst?

After rampant spread of the fresh wave of coronavirus, the government led by Narendra Modi and as many as 16 chief ministers of the states most effected by the second surge, are trying the impossible: plugging loopholes within and outside the system.

However the sheer size of the India’s population and the spread of the virus makes the catastrophe incomparable with any other country in the world.

The government -- both at the federal as well as state level – faltered. They failed to anticipate the second wave and they failed to act on expert advice on time.

Now, everyone in the seat of power are trying to cover up. The reality is that the deadly attack of the new variant of coronavirus has completely overwhelmed the Modi government.

A nation at war

Till date Modi has chaired 28 emergency meetings to manage the COVID crisis. The government has gone ahead and released Rs.11830 crores to various states to spend on capital expenditure.

It has invoked the Special Provisions Act and granted Emergency Financial Powers to the Armed Forces to help in medical emergency. The defence services cantonment boards -- all over India – including their 40 hospitals and the hospitals managed by the Naval Command are serving civilians.

Seven Indian ships are ferrying the liquid medical oxygen-filled cryogenic containers round the clock from several international destinations. The Indian Air force is deployed to air-lift tankers from Germany, UAE, Thailand and many more countries. From Bhutan to China – nations are helping India at this critical juncture.

Within the country all COVID-affected states have got emergency delivery of oxygen through 75 special Oxygen Express trains. The Indian Railways have run efficiently, pressing in service more than 80 trains to send hundreds of tankers to the states that have oxygen but were facing distribution issues.

In March 2019, India was producing 750 metric tons of oxygen per day. The production has been increased to 7800 MT. All the fertilisers companies have joined in to supply daily 50 MT oxygen.

An unpardonable delay

After an unpardonable delay, the BJP government finally put the PM Cares fund to use. Work is afoot to build more than 260 Oxygen plants. Overnight thousands of hospital beds have been put in place (many of them were dismantled in January as “triumphalism” of victory over virus crept in the government).

The government has overnight activated, by investing rs.200 crores, 25 new plants in the private sectors to help produce 3 lakh does of vaccines every day.

Even though over-rated, the production of the in-demand medicine Remdesivir has increased to 90 lakh/month from 40 lakh/month. At a cost of Rs 26,000 crores, five kg free rations will be provided to 80 crore people for next 2 months.

To manage absenteeism in the lower ranks in the government hospitals, Modi government has announced that whoever completes 100 days of COVID duty will be given permanent job.

After losing precious time, the government has paid around Rs 3000 crores to the Serum Institute, and Rs1500 crores to Bharat Biotech to speed up the production of Covid vaccines.

In first 109 days 16 crore Indians have been given the first dose of vaccine which is faster than any other country.

In a swift move, the Defence Bio-Engineering & Electro Medical Laboratory, Bengaluru of DRDO has come up with 2DG anti-viral drug to resist the virus multiplication in the body. The drug is likely to help maintain safe SpO2 levels of the patients.

The government, at last, has reformed the Indian regulations framework to allow import and use the vaccines approved abroad. This could have been done in January-February itself.

People are anguished while families feel hopelessness. A large part of India is under lock-down and continuous news of deaths have numbed the senses.

The health ministry has started nationwide toll free 24 x 7 helpline (080-4611 0007) to address psychological concerns. The helpline was flooded with millions of calls in the first few days.

However, the truth remains that even with work being carried out at such war-footing, it has not been enough to save lives. Very high death toll for days has effectively silenced the government.

Indian people have family, societal memories of the pandemic (mahamari). It is a known devil in the folk tales. Largely, Indians tend to blame the karma or destiny in pandemic. The coronavirus is the demon but it must be noted the lack of oxygen in hospitals speaks of the sheer incompetence of the government.

The Indian constitution does not expressly recognise the right to health as a fundamental right. Article 21 does however recognise the right to life and personal liberty of every Indian. It says no person shall be deprived of his/her life except in accordance with a procedure established by law.

Those who has this right taken away from them – and who passed away – would haunt India for a long, long time.

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