Just six weeks ago, the Indian Minister of Health declared that the country was “in the final phase” of the COVID-19 pandemic. This Friday, India reported, for the second day in a row, the highest number of new cases in a single day since the pandemic began.
The second wave in India, which began in mid-March, has devastated communities and hospitals across the country. Everything is in short supply: beds in intensive care units, drugs, oxygen and respirators. Corpses accumulate in morgues and crematoria.
India reported 332,730 new cases on Friday, the highest daily count of cases in the world. The United States is second, with a maximum of 300,310 cases on January 2.
India’s population is roughly four times that of the US, and its daily cases are still lower than this when adjusted for population size (in cases per million people).
But the fact is, India’s total now stands at more than 16 million confirmed cases and nearly 187,000 related deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
“We are going through practically the worst possible phase of the pandemic,” said Chandrika Bahadur, chair of the Lancet Commission Working Group on COVID-19 in India on Wednesday. “The situation has been bad for a couple of weeks, but now it has peaked.”
And that peak shows no signs of dropping anytime soon. As India sinks into crisis, many are wondering: where are the country’s leaders?
State ministers and local authorities, including those in Maharashtra, which has suffered greatly, have been warning of the second wave and preparing for action since February. In contrast, there appears to be a leadership vacuum in the central government, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi had not spoken out on the situation until recent weeks.
Response from Indian leaders
In sporadic statements throughout April, Modi spoke of the national vaccination effort and acknowledged the “alarming” increase in cases, but was slow to take containment measures, as well as ordering states to increase testing and follow-up , and ask the population to be vigilant.
And he continued to praise the country’s success, even as states imposed new restrictions and hospitals began to run out of space. “Despite the challenges, we have more experience, resources, and so does the vaccine,” his office said in a press release on April 8. Two days later, he celebrated the administration of 100 million doses of vaccines throughout the country, tuiteando that they were “reinforcing efforts to ensure a healthy and COVID-19 free India.”
It wasn’t until Tuesday that Modi finally emphasized the urgency of the situation and laid out new measures in a late-night address to the nation. “The country is once again waging a great battle against covid-19,” he said. “A few weeks ago, conditions had stabilized, and then the second wave came.”
But by then, the outbreak in India was already the largest in the world in terms of absolute daily numbers. According to the World Health Organization, almost 28% of all new cases in the world in the last week came from India.
This crisis, and the administration’s struggle to respond to it, has shown “complete arrogance, and a kind of arrogance, in decision-making,” Harsh Mander, a writer and human rights activist, said Thursday. “The government has shown totally and manifestly (a lack of) competence and compassion.”
Modi, who won a landslide re-election in 2019 with his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), enjoys immense popularity in India. Even last year, when the country’s economy was hit by a tight shutdown that brought everything to a standstill, Modi largely escaped the scathing headlines and crushing opinion polls other world leaders have had to contend with.
But this wave is much bigger than the previous one. People are exhausted and worn out after more than a year of the pandemic. Patients and their loved ones, unable to receive the necessary care, have turned to social media to ask for medicine and free hospital beds. And experts who have warned for months of a possible second wave are frustrated that their warnings were not heeded.
These complaints spread through social media last week. Tens of thousands of people took to Twitter with hashtags like #ResignModi, #SuperSpreaderModi, and #WhoFailedIndia. Political figures, including state authorities and former officials, were among the voices calling for greater accountability and criticizing the government’s handling of the crisis.
“The fight against covid19 in India is the reflection of the government (of Modi)”, tweeted on Monday Siddaramaiah, former chief minister of the state of Karnataka. The government may have been surprised by the first wave, he added, but “what is the situation now? The forecast is desperate even now.
Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister of West Bengal and a member of the Trinamool Congress Party, called for Modi’s resignation. “The prime minister is responsible,” he said, adding that “he has done nothing to stop the covid nor has he let anyone do anything to stop it.”
Experts and health personnel say that the public let their guard down with a false sense of security after the first wave subsided, which is why the second wave advanced so quickly, but this attitude of confidence was exacerbated by government officials. like Modi and the Minister of Health Harsh Vardhan, who celebrated with great fanfare the apparent recovery of the country. The leaders did little to discourage public gatherings, allowing a massive, multi-week-long Hindu pilgrimage to take place, with millions of attendees traveling through numerous states.
Election campaigns without measures against covid-19
Anger also increased this time because Modi flew in to hold political rallies while meeting with his ministers about the outbreak.
Four states and one Union territory are holding elections for their state legislature, including West Bengal, a major battlefield currently ruled by Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress Party, and which has never had a BJP government.
It has become a key target for the BJP, and Modi has held numerous rallies in the state with thousands of people in attendance between March and April.
However, as the cases skyrocketed, several of the contending parties withdrew from the campaign. The Indian National Congress, the main opposition party, announced last Sunday that it will suspend all public rallies in West Bengal. Banerjee said his party would also hold short rallies due to the pandemic.
The BJP announced that it would also limit its rallies to “small public gatherings”, capped at 500 people. Modi was scheduled to travel to West Bengal on Friday for a campaign rally, but announced on Thursday that he was canceling the trip to attend high-level covid meetings.
But Modi’s and the BJP’s rallies throughout March and April, and his belated performance, undermine his message to the public of increased vigilance, said Mander, the activist.
“Ordinary people are being blamed,” he said. “But what we see is that the prime minister has gathered large masses of people, none of them wearing a mask and without keeping any kind of distance in political meetings.”
The suffering of people on the streets of India
This week, the government launched a series of measures, including plans for the delivery of 100,000 oxygen cylinders across the country, new oxygen production plants and hospitals dedicated to Covid-19 patients.
But while states and hospitals wait for much-needed help, a black market has emerged to fill the void, highlighting the lack of resources for central authorities.
Earlier this week, Vishwaroop Sharma, a 22-year-old student, took his father, seriously ill with covid, to a hospital in Delhi, but there were no beds or oxygen available. They had to wait outside, where “there was nothing, and he died in front of me, in my hands,” Sharma told Citizen Free Press.
Upon returning home, he discovered that his mother was also infected and that it was difficult for him to breathe. Frantic, he bought an oxygen cylinder on the black market, put an oxygen mask on her, and drove her from hospital to hospital for several days until he finally found her a free bed 100 kilometers away.
‘That trust was completely broken’
The shortage is especially dire because the country has had a long time to prepare, Mander said.
“They have had a whole year to do it,” he said. “And suddenly we find these really criminal deficiencies across the country. When you start looking, you find that no orders have been placed, that companies have not been pressured because they are not manufacturing supplies.
The tragedy and despair in the country could leave a deep generation gap between the population and its government, he added.
“A lot of things were broken last year, but one of them is trust,” Mander said. India’s poorest and most vulnerable residents “believed that when things got really bad, we would be protected by our government and our employers. That trust was completely broken… They are on their own.
And yet Modi’s popularity could shield him from public backlash and protect his position of power.
When Modi was re-elected in 2019, there were already “very few illusions,” Mander said. The economy was in trouble, with little job creation; the agricultural sector was in crisis, leading to continued protests by farmers across the country. Despite these many problems at Modi’s hands, his policies and his Hindu nationalist program won him a loyal following at a time when tensions between Hindus and Muslims were rising in the country.
Even now, as thousands of people die every day, “none of this seems to weigh against the popularity of the government,” Mander said.
that it “can only be explained by the power” of its Hindu nationalist base.
It remains to be seen how the pandemic will affect Modi or his party in the next general election, in 2024, he said.
Meanwhile, civilians devastated by the outbreak have to deal with fear, pain and the feeling of having been abandoned.
“New Delhi is getting worse by the day, it is turning into hell,” said Sharma, who returned home after finding the hospital bed open. “They are not achieving anything.”
“I am totally helpless,” he added. «I am very afraid, I am terrified. I don’t want to lose my mother like I have lost my father. I won’t be able to survive if I lose my mother.
Melissa Galbraith is the World News reporter for Globe Live Media. She covers all the major events happening around the World. From Europe to Americas, from Asia to Antarctica, Melissa covers it all. Never miss another Major World Event by bookmarking her author page right here.