“India will grow at 11 to 11.5%.” This was the prediction by most of the global rating agencies in February / March 2021 such as the IMF. From a negative growth to bounce back to a possibility of such a phenomenal level appears to have not gone well with the Oriental Power to our East and the West. Even the farmer’s agitation, which was mostly motivated by vested interest in the country and abroad, was receiving constructive attention of the government and gradually losing steam. Things were looking bright for the country both economically and medically. And lo behold come 21 April, a Tsunami in the form of the second wave caused by a Covid-19 variant christened by WHO as ‘delta’ struck India. Before the government and the people could even fathom what had happened, Indian Health Infrastructure was overwhelmed and there was a general cry of mismanagement by the public and certain sections of our polity against the government.
Lack of foresight, advanced preparedness for the expected second wave, export of vaccines at the cost of the people of India were some of the scathing criticisms against the government. Black marketing of oxygen cylinders, critical medicines and lack of oxygenated beds were some of the other issues raised by political entities, personalities, and the public in general. The government’s decision to hold Kumbh festivities and the elections in West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry, and Kerala became a target for causing the second wave. However, observing political correctness no one spoke about the Ramazan prayers and Eid gatherings. The total cases jumped from 12 lakh to 28 lakh, an increase of 133%. The deaths jumped in the same period from 1.6 lakh to 3.2 lakhs an increase of 100%.
The picture has started changing rapidly. From 10 May to date, the active number of cases has started dropping from an all-time high of 37 lakhs to 20 lakh and still maintaining a downward trend. The new cases have reduced to approximately 1.5 lakh from a high of over 4 lakh cases per day. Death per million is one of the lowest in the world. How has this turnaround happened?
DID THE GOVERNMENT REALLY FALTER?
When a tsunami hits land, it destroys everything in its path and the second wave was a tsunami. While at no stage I wish to cover the loss of valuable lives by jugglery of data, it is important to understand why India was being singled out? Europe and the USA which boast of the best of health infrastructure were also overwhelmed by the second wave with their health infrastructure bursting at the seams. Let me give some comparison to substantiate this fact.
At the peak of second wave, Europe saw deaths ranging from 35000 to 39500 per day. The combined population of Europe is 740 million.Their health infrastructure can be gauged by the number of nurses per 1000 persons which is 8.7 as of 2018 figures. And compare this with figures of India with a population almost double that of Europe. India never saw per day death of more than 4500. The deaths per day at its peak was 4529 between 15 April to 29 May 2021.
Also if we examine the relative availability of nurses in India it stands at 1.7 nurses per 1000 persons. This is much below the WHO standard of 3 per 1000. Yet India is slowly but steadily getting things under control. Now one may ask as to why not the government prepared in the intervening period between the first and the second wave to enhance medical staff and related infrastructure. To the splitting hair types, the ensuing data would be of some help. Government of India had constituted 11 Empowered Groups on 29 March 2020 on different aspects of Covid-19 management in the country. Some of the important issues covered are medical emergency planning, availability of hospitals, isolation and quarantine facility, testing, ensuring availability of essential medical equipment, augmenting human resource and capacity building. From a situation of a single laboratory equipped to undertake testing for Covid in January, by the end of December 2020, 2288 laboratories (as of 30 December 2020) were conducting Covid testing. Laboratories have been established in difficult terrains like Ladakh, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland as well as other North-Eastern states, Lakshadweep and Andaman & Nicobar Islands. While there were no indigenous manufacturers of laboratory diagnostics or testing machines for Covid, today India has an indigenous production capacity of more than 10 lakh kits/day. As of 29 December 2020, a total of 15,378 Covid treatment facilities with 12,67,127 dedicated isolation beds were created. Also, a total of 2,70,710 oxygen supported isolation beds and 81,113 ICU beds (including 40,627 ventilator beds) were created. In addition, a total of 12,669 quarantine centres with 5,91,496 beds have been created. No doubt this was not adequate but from a zero to reach these levels in a record time in India is not a mean achievement. As I keep saying it was not a wave but a Tsunami.
WHY THE HULLABALOO?
One of the obvious reasons for an anti-India tirade has been its recovery after the first wave despite facing so many impediments internally and externally. Sample some facts; prior to the second wave the economy of India was projected to grow at 11%, India was emerging as an undisputed leader in the Pharma sector with control of over 60% of the market, its vaccine production was cheaper and better than others especially the Chinese and India had given a resounding reply to China in Eastern Ladakh conveying in no uncertain terms that India was not a pushover. Efforts to bring down India have always been made by external and internal players. The narrative was set by inimical elements to create a situation of mismanagement by the Indian Government by highlighting its decision to conduct elections and Kumbh Mela during a Pandemic. There is some merit in this criticism and GoI should have scaled down Kumbh Mela and Election Commission should have issued strict guidelines for the conduct of election rallies. But were these event the only cause for such a massive surge, is questionable. In this background, the second wave was like a boon to the detractors of the Modi government. I am not defending Narendra Modi or his government but certain facts need to be carefully considered before we blame anyone. In my opinion, the Government of India and the Prime Minister have taken the best foot forward despite the severe constraints faced by them.
The first big criticism has been mismanagement in handling the second wave. However, this may not be entirely true. Thanks to some emergent actions like reaching out to various nations for help, starting of oxygen trains to badly affected states, instituting curbs on black marketing of medicines and oxygen cylinders, ramping up of medical infrastructure by utilising the services of the DRDO and the Armed Forces and decentralising micromanagement to the states, the rate of new cases in the country is gradually falling. Similarly,
in Lucknow, while hospitals remain overburdened, new hospital admissions are gradually coming down. For example, the KGMC is running a 988-bed Covid facility, the largest in the state, which successfully treated over 5,000 patients, conducted more than 18 lakh tests at its labs and administered 40,000 vaccine doses.
As on 30 May, over 600 Covid positive patients and more than 200 black fungus infection cases are under treatment here.
Similarly, in another hospital in Lucknow, there were 165 ICU beds created for Covid patients during the peak of the second wave to accommodate the surge in serious cases but as of 30 May, there were only 20 beds occupied. It speaks volumes of our doctors, caregivers and nurses and the action taken by the state government on a war footing. It is not to say that the arrangements were faultless but in the given situation and constraints they were quite satisfactory.
The second criticism of the government was about according permission to hold Kumbh Mela and elections. No doubt it was avoidable but was it the real spreader as is being claimed.
The graph of Covid below tells a different story and I leave it at that for the readers to make sense of it. Where is the maximum impact? It is in the southern states and where was Kumbh in Uttarakhand. The impact of elections seems to have a correlation but the story is different for West Bengal where the number of rallies was held in large numbers and the crowd was also uncontrolled. The point I am getting at is that there is more than what meets the eye. Hope India was not a victim of biowarfare timed suitably to promote the foreign producers of vaccines and promote the sale of other drugs related to Covid management such as Remdesivir. Investigations on the Covid being biowarfare are already on and the circumstantial evidence points too strongly towards China. While the jury is still not out about Covid being biowarfare, but it may soon be. And I guess China is deeply involved in it.
INDIA GREY ZONED THROUGH INFORMATION WAR?
One has to just glean through the propaganda war waged by the West and the East alike to bring down the image of India and in particular Modi. Take a sampling of the headlines of international newspapers. Top 11 Foreign newspapers / e-platforms went wild on Narendra Modi‘s Handling of Covid crisis. Some samplings:
1) Asia Times: ‘India’s Covid crisis is mostly Modi’s fault’
2) The Guardian: ‘View on Modi’s mistakes: a pandemic that is out of control’
3) Haaretz Daily: ‘How Modi led India into a Covid catastrophe’
4) The Financial Times: ‘Narendra Modi and the perils of Covid hubris’
5) The Washington Post: Modi’s pandemic choice: ‘Protect his image or protect India. He chose himself’
6) CNN: ‘Covid-19 exposed populist leaders like Modi and Trump’
7) Truthout: ‘Indian hospitals overwhelmed as Covid cases soar in Modi-made disaster’
8) Le Monde (French): ‘Covid-19 : l’Inde de Narendra Modi ébranlée’
9) The Australian: ‘Modi leads India into viral apocalypse’
10) The Time USA: ‘This is hell. Prime Minister Modi’s failure to lead is deepening India‘s Covid-19 crisis’
11) DW (Germany): ‘India‘s Covid-19 policy was a disaster waiting to happen’
China was not to be left behind. A social media account affiliated with CCP Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission posted this on Weibo. Caption: “When China sets things on fire vs when India does it.” Coming from a Government Source speaks of the Chinese intent. Indian Government has responded with maturity on this issue and has maintained silence.
Likewise, there are elements promoting personal agendas with the least disregard to national and public interest. For example, due to a slight delay in administering the vaccine in May 2021 and in the garb of surge due to the second wave, China was offering to dump its low-quality vaccines to India. It is a well-known fact that the Sinopharm, the Chinese vaccine is only 50 to 60 % effective. It may also be recalled that Seychelles saw a dangerous jump in infections after making Sinopharm Vaccine as the mainstay of its inoculation drive. Prudence demands not to jump into the fire and play with danger. What is even more surprising is that there are internal lobbies that are promoting the import of the Chinese Vaccine. Where is the need to resort to importing a low-quality vaccine from a sworn adversary when Investec, in a research note, has analysed the vaccine ecosystem and argued that in another three months we will have a two to three times increase in supply through a combination of enhanced domestic production, imports and newer vaccines coming in (Sputnik, Novavax, Biological-E, Cadila, Covaxin Inhaler, and Johnson & Johnson single-shot probably at around $5 per dose)? Hence by October 2021, India can vaccinate 75% of its 18 plus population. We must guard against all forms of warfare by the Chinese and their lobbyists in the country.
UNITE TO FIGHT PERNICIOUS FORCES AND COVID
The Central government along with state governments needs to bury their differences and combine well to fight the delta variant menace. The establishment of DRDO hospitals, ramping of medical staff and caregivers, construction of oxygen plants, running of oxygen trains, grant of funds, care of orphaned children, and affected people from the weaker sections of the society are some measures that the Centre and some of the state governments are taking. These efforts need to be ramped up. Preparations ought to be made in advance to meet the challenges of the third wave which is likely to affect the children. Rather than engaging the Armed Forces who have their task cut out to meet the challenges from our adversary, it may be a good idea to raise Medical TA Units which can be mobilised at short notice to deal with medical disasters of such nature. At the same time, we need to fight the sinister designs of our enemies who do not want to see a prosperous and progressive India. China continues to amass troops along our borders and their effort to wage a grey zone war against the country will only increase with time. Further, internal actors who are abetting such forces are only making India weaker. Indiscretion by internal elements may look attractive to some sections of the country in the short term but it will only come to haunt them in the future. It is time for all of us to unite and fight against the dual threats of ‘Chinese Virus’ and pernicious threats.
Lt Gen Dushyant Singh (retd) has served in varied terrains and theatre of operations, in India and in the UN as Military Observer. He has commanded an Infantry Battalion, Brigade and a Division in Jammu and Kashmir. He was Command of Corps Chief of Staff Eastern Command and Commandant Army War College. He is currently Professor Emeritus Defence Studies at Gu-jarat Raksha Shakti University. Twitter handle: @dushy40098.
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