As India struggles to cope with a devastating second wave of Covid-19 pandemic, America’s top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci has rightly held “incorrect assumption” about taming the virus and then opening up “prematurely” responsible for the current surge in infections.
When the first wave hit India and the rest of the world early last year, the South Asian country went into perhaps the strictest and longest lockdown. The timely government action played a pivotal role in flattening the curve within months. Predictions of logging over 300,000 cases daily during the peak surge fell flat, as the highest single-day tally did not even cross the 100,000-mark.
Today, the country finds itself in dire straits with the predictions about positive cases made back then turning true now. No one expected a second wave of such unprecedented magnitude.
So, where did India go so wrong that the daily cases breached the 400,000-mark, leaving the county with a shortage of health workers, vaccines, oxygen, drugs, and beds? Let’s have a look at Top 5 reasons behind the tsunami of Covid-19 cases.
1. New Variants and Lackadaisical Attitude
The government and people made an error in judgment that they were finished with the deadly pandemic. On the contrary, mutations of the virus were knocking on the door. As the US and the UK battled a second wave, India lowered its guard. The UK, Brazil, and South Africa reported new variants of the virus, India remained lackadaisical in its approach to block their entry. This was even though the Health Ministry in late December formed the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) to keep track of mutations of the Covid-19 virus. The consortium struggled to get hold of samples as most states failed to notice the approaching wave. It was as late as March when INSACOG confirmed the presence of the B.1.617 variant, which had already exploded in many states.
2. Inadequate Medical Infrastructure
The massive surge in infections has exposed how badly the administration failed to have a medical infrastructure in place to tackle a raging pandemic. This is despite having a good seven to eight months in hand as the second wave hit India one year after the first. It’s not just the medical workforce, a massive shortage is there of beds, ICUs, ventilators, oxygen, and life-saving drugs. As a matter of fact, as against the World Health Organization’s benchmark of a minimum of 44.5 health workers for every 10,000 people, India has 37.6.
The inability to raise a workforce in a short span is understandable. But failure to arrange enough beds cannot be justified. According to government reports, between April and September last year, the number of oxygen-supported beds was increased from 62,458 to 247,972, and that of ICU beds rose from 27,360 to 66,638. But between September and January, the numbers fell drastically. India’s health minister even declared that the “worst” of the coronavirus in the country was “over”.
3. Testing, Tracing Strategy
In the first wave, testing was conducted on a war footing and door-to-door drives were commonplace. From 1,500 in April, the number of daily tests spiraled to a million in October. The number of testing labs jumped from 166 in April to 2,257 in November. But the drive lost momentum with the fall in new cases. In over five months from December to May, the number of new testing labs stood at just 249. The lack of testing facilities is having a cascading effect. The delay in diagnosis and reports have deprived many patients of timely treatment, resulting in deteriorating health and increasing fatalities.
4. Slow Vaccination Rollout
India, dubbed as the vaccine capital of the world, was slow in launching the vaccination drive. The first phase started on January 16 for the frontline workers, followed by people aged 60+ and those with comorbidities in March. But as the second wave arrived, the shortage of vaccine came to the fore. The main reason for the shortage was launching the inoculation program and vaccine diplomacy at the same time. The distribution and export of vaccines started without estimating the domestic need or the urgency of vaccinating the whole population. According to government data, India’s vaccine program from mid-January to mid-April has given 130 million doses while 66 million vaccine doses were exported. If not exported, the stock could have been used for a month of vaccinations domestically.
5. Large Public Event
All the efforts made to ensure social distancing and use of masks over the past few months came to naught during massive public rallies for elections to legislative assemblies of four states in March-April. Maha Kumbh, a months-long religious gathering held every 12 years, in the holy town of Haridwar in northern India added to the woes. Both turned out to be super-spreader events. States of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal that went to the polls reported a huge surge in cases during and after the elections. Maha Kumbh had to be called off midway after spurt in cases. Hundreds of top seers who attended the gathering tested positive for Covid and many died. Most of the states made RT-PCR negative reports mandatory for those returning from Haridwar.
Conclusion: Early declaration of victory by the Indian administration against a rachet virus has turned out to be a deadly blow. Vaccine diplomacy, where India gifted vials to its neighbors, has also now seems like a premature decision as short supply has severely hit inoculation programs within the country. Massive aid from the world and slight sign of flattening of the curve in most affected states has been seeing a light at the end of the tunnel for now.