On the 8th of March 2021 India’s Health Minister proclaimed India was in “the endgame of the pandemic”. In January cases has dropped to 20,000 a day which allowed the easing of restrictions. Prime Minster Narendra Modi declared India as nearly COVID-free; travel, markets and gyms opened, with famous festivals such as the Kumbh Mela attracting millions of people with no social distancing or masks being enforced. In a turn of events, on the 30th of April India declared 400,000 cases in one day. It is suggested that the rapid spread of the virus must be a new variant, currently known as the “Indian variant”, B.1.617.2.
Devastating scenes in India show lines of ambulances and mass crematoriums filled with pyres of lost loved ones. Delhi has been described as depicting “a city in a siege”, and social media platforms are flooded with SOS messages begging for oxygen tanks or places to stay. Drugs are sold out everywhere and common drugs like ‘remdesivir’ and ‘tocilizumab’ are now sold at extortionate prices on the black market, furtherly entrenching the inequality between the rich and families who cannot afford the illegal drugs. Hospitals have run out of oxygen – in GTB hospital in Delhi, 6 patients were left to die by staff as they had run out of resources.
These dire conditions in India lead to an underlying question – could this second wave have been prevented? India’s healthcare infrastructure was “not prepared” to deal with the crisis. Testing has decreased since the second wave due to the overwhelming demand. Testing is currently at 2 million a day but lowered to 1.5 million at the height of the second wave in April. A high proportion of these tests are positive, but it is clear that thousands of positive cases are going undetected due to the lack of facilities.
The Indian government must increase their vaccination rate as their healthcare system is in jeopardy. The prevention of this second wave could have been dealt with sooner if India increased their expenditure on healthcare and social distancing rules were enforced strictly by the government. India has fewer than 10 doctors per 10,000 people and in some areas, it is less than 5. Their health care expenditure as a percentage of GDP is only 3.6%, compared to 16% in the USA, highlighting that developing countries spend much less on healthcare which has led India’s new strain to thrive.
The British and American government have distributed planeloads of medicine, ventilators and oxygen equipment to help the struggling country. However, there are concerns and ambiguity on where this aid is going. India’s second strain has led to 4 deaths in London today and the UK’s vaccine is being opened to over 18’s in Lancashire amid government concerns of this new strain. Boris Johnson said he is “concerned” by the new variant and “not ruling anything out”.
It is compelling that this second wave, which has now killed over 260,000 Indian citizens since the pandemic began, spreads faster and might be more deadly than the first strain. Unfortunately, the government should have done more to enforce protective measures and stopped huge social events to make sure India was in the clear. The pandemic has hit India extremely quickly and is damaging families from all regions. The vaccine rollout is India’s only hope of recovering from this, and it must be said that the government must enforce more rules to encourage protecting others.