Rasheeda Bhagat

How the calamitous Covid crisis was created

Rasheeda Bhagat | Updated on April 27, 2021

Covid Unparalleled crisis   -  PTI

When the second wave struck, politicians were busy in election campaigning. They have at last woken up to unfolding tragedy

The raging Covid, with daily infections touching the 3.5 lakh mark, the highest in the world at over a third of the global daily number, has left India reeling. The second wave of Covid is petrifying in its speed and fury and has brought the country to its knees.

Hospitals have been overrun, medical personnel exhausted, and each passing hour brings heart rending scenes of people hanging on to oxygen cylinders outside hospitals besieged by long queues of waiting ambulances. Relatives desperately pleading to hospitals and “influential people” for a hospital bed is not something one would imagine to see in a country like India.

Not so long ago, we were proud of our superior medical expertise and robust health-care systems manned by among the best in the world. Some of our plush and well equipped multi-specialty hospitals were even promoting India as a destination for medical tourism. No queues here for a heart surgery, we boasted.

But the second wave of this pandemic has stretched our health-care system so extremely that our courts, led by the Supreme Court, have had to step in to chide the government on the mayhem going on in hospitals running short of oxygen.

A Delhi High Court judge made this acerbic remark: “Forget the common man on the street, even if I were to ask for a bed today, it would not be available right now”. With people dying for want of oxygen, Apollo Hospitals Joint MD Sangita Reddy’s tweet urging government to allow the tag of ‘ambulance’ to oxygen tankers, made abundant sense. Mercifully, an ambulance-like status has now been given to oxygen tankers so this life-saving gas can be rushed to hospitals.

Choked crematoriums

The scenes from crematoriums across the country is heart-rending. The many video clips of choked shamshan ghats and exhausted staff, on TV channels and social media platforms, told the depressing tale of the rampaging pandemic, of desperate relatives begging hospitals for for oxygen, for a bed, for any medical help, and the relentless march of the Grim Reaper.

In India, there is always a question mark over official figures. When it comes to Covid infections and deaths, there are credible and widespread charges of heavy under-reporting, particularly of fatalities. Independent verifications by journalists who bothered to crosscheck official data of deaths in various cities with the numbers from crematoriums as well as obits in local language dailies, found the actual death toll was far higher than the official figures. Such ground reports came from a Gujarat daily Sandesh, as well as The New York Times and said that at several crematoriums the cause of death for Covid cases was routinely recorded as “illness”.

So, how did a country that only a few months ago was patting itself on the back for flattening the Covid curve and managing to “defeat” the coronavirus, get into this deep a hole? After all, we are the “vaccine factory of the world”, but all of a sudden we find ourselves so woefully short of jabs that in many States and hospitals, only the second dose is being administered.

This has raised a big question mark on the ability of the system to cope when the vaccination drive is expanded for all those above the age of 18 after May 1.

So, how did we lose the plot? Our misplaced religious priorities and the unquenchable thirst of our politicians to win elections. When exams can be postponed, why couldn’t elections be put off? Was winning West Bengal more important than the public health emergency that was beginning to recede but had not gone away?

When lakhs of Indians were battling the second wave of Covid, our politicians were busy with election rallies in Bengal. And by the time we decided to go in for a “symbolic” Kumbh Mela, tens of thousands must have been already infected, with the massive gathering having scant regard for masks, social distancing or hygiene. Even now, large Ramzan prayer meetings are happening.Not to mention the many blithe marriage functions and parties.

Without playing the blame game, politicians are finally waking up to the unfolding humanitarian crisis and admitting that controlling Covid has to be the single-point agenda. The people must also realise this and play their part.

It cannot be a happy situation to be left looking to the world to bail us out.

Published on April 26, 2021

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