COVID-19 devastates India

A new variant, poor leadership, and underfunded healthcare has led to a deadly second wave of coronavirus in India

Mass cremation site in Delhi. Photo by Associated Press.

— 2 minute read — by Sam Feierabend

India has been hit with a devastating second wave of coronavirus cases, with a new, more transmissible variant seemingly the key factor. Yet questionable leadership and public complacency has also been cited as reasons as to why the world’s second-most populated country has been ravaged by the virus.

As the rest of the world struggled with an initial wave of COVID-19 in spring last year, India decided to lock the country down, even while domestic cases were fairly low. They unlocked on 31st May 2020, and over the summer saw cases rise but the healthcare system was not overwhelmed as was the case in various other nations. As cases fell over winter and into early 2021, the government allowed various events and gatherings to take place with limited distancing and no masks – something that scientists have since labelled ‘super-spreader events’. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been largely blamed for the government’s incompetence, being the condemned subject of a popular Twitter hashtag, #superspreaderModi.

Many have also cited India’s struggle to roll out enough vaccines to prevent another wave of the virus. In some terms, it in understandable, given that having the second largest world population means it will take longer to vaccinate enough people. As of 31st May, just 12 percent of India’s population had received at least one vaccination dose, a small proportion compared to countries such as the U.S. who have provided over 50 percent of their population with at least one dose.

Cases began to rise in early March, kept multiplying at a startling rate, and overtook the peak of the first wave in early April. On 5th May, India hit a peak of 400,000 cases in one day, accounting for over half of the global daily total. The reason for this became clear as scientists discovered the presence of a new mutation of COVID-19 in people testing positive – variant B.1.617 – worryingly labelled in most mainstream media as ‘the Indian variant’. This variant appeared more easily transmissible than previously-identified strains of the virus found, which helped to explain the explosion of the second wave in India, where other countries were seemingly through the worst part of the pandemic.

The horrifying consequence of the second wave in India is the death toll that ensued. A critically underfunded health service struggled to provide ventilators and oxygen to those who needed it most, and images of people dying in the streets became all too common. By the peak of the second wave, the daily average deaths from COVID-19 in India was 3,500, with this figure not including those who could not physically get medical treatment for other diseases and viruses.

Mercifully, cases and deaths are now falling in India. As the variant that has caused devastation in the country is starting to be found globally, it appears that vaccine rollout is limiting its affect on populations. As India tries to vaccinate people quickly, many of those in the country are starting to turn their anger towards Modi, his handling of the pandemic and how it has caused nightmarish scenes for his people.