India, which weathered the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic fairly well, is finding the second wave to be a nightmare. Public health authorities are calling it “Covid hell” as the number of positive tests, hospitalizations, and deaths are soaring out of control, putting an unbearable strain on India’s third-world health care system.
The nation set a one-day record for the number of infections recorded — 314,835 — with no sign the situation will get any better. India’s political leadership failed miserably in getting what vaccine it had to the most vulnerable citizens and the public health system seems incapable of dealing with a new variant.
— Reuters (@Reuters) April 21, 2021
Health officials across northern and western India including the capital, New Delhi, said they were in crisis, with most hospitals full and running out of oxygen.
Some doctors were advising patients to stay at home, while a crematorium in the eastern city of Muzaffarpur said it was being overwhelmed with bodies and grieving families had to wait their turn. A crematorium east of Delhi built funeral pyres in its parking lot.
“Right now there are no beds, no oxygen. Everything else is secondary,” Shahid Jameel, a virologist and director of the Trivedi School of Biosciences at Ashoka University, told Reuters.
“The infrastructure is crumbling.”
In truth, there wasn’t a lot of “infrastructure” to begin with. India ranks near the bottom in public health spending and they’re paying for that deficiency now. They’re running out of everything. Some hospitals in Delhi have run out of oxygen and facilities in neighboring states are refusing to part with the oxygen supplies they have.
A lot of sick people are going to suffer because of the government’s shortsightedness.
In the western city of Ahmedabad, a man strapped to an oxygen cylinder lay in the back of a car outside a hospital as he waited for a bed, a Reuters picture showed.
“We never thought a second wave would hit us so hard,” Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, executive chairman of healthcare firm Biocon andsubsidiary Biocon Biologics, wrote in the Economic Times.
“Complacency led to unanticipated shortages of medicines, medical supplies and hospital beds.”
India locked down last week — a measure that proved far too little and too late. It didn’t help that India reopened its economy with very few people vaccinated and a new variant sweeping across the country.
Some experts say new, more infectious virus variants, in particular a “double mutant” variant that originated in India, are largely responsible for the spike in cases, but many also blame the politicians.
“The second wave is a consequence of complacency and mixing and mass gatherings. You don’t need a variant to explain the second wave,” said Ramanan Laxminarayan of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy in New Delhi.
The virus must have been extremely grateful to the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi after they lifted the ban on large gatherings. That meant that a Hindu religious festival could go forward that was attended by millions and local political rallies were held. Those actions jumpstarted a surge in infections that made the current outbreak unmanageable.
The virus hit India harder and later largely because, while the pandemic surged through W
estern countries last summer, India was in the midst of its winter. It gave India a false sense that it was managing the pandemic well.
No one thinks that now.