India’s Dealing with Coronavirus Pandemic

Unable to find a method to corner Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his critics continued to shift the goal post.
Keywords: Covid, Corona, Pandemic, Vaccines, Narendra Modi, India, Second Wave, Health, US, UK, Variant, Lockdown, Governance, WHO, Economic, Unprecedented
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On 24 March 2020, when the Coronavirus pandemic was at its infancy, with an intention to halt the spread, Prime Minister Narendra Modi stunned the world and announced an unprecedented lockdown in India. Modi’s clinical understanding about the step to lock 1.3 billion people left no room for ambiguity. He knew that 80 percent of India’s 470 million workers are in the informal sector and therefore, the PM said ‘No doubt this lockdown will entail an economic cost for the country, but saving the life of each and every Indian is the first priority for me’ and ‘if we are not able to manage the next 21 days, then many families will be destroyed forever.’ His words proved prophetic a year later in April-May 2021 when the killer second wave struck India and honouring the federal structure of India and appreciating the opinions of critics, Modi did not impose countrywide lockdown.

But his strategy did not augur well with his detractors. Propelled by anti-Modi collaborators and unaware of India’s socio-economic milieu, western media morphed the lockdown during the first wave as anti-people and anti-migrants. Curiously, western media criticised Modi’s action when all the 50 States of the US and entire Europe were under  lockdown. India’s opposition leaders joined the bandwagon and called the step as ‘Tughlaqi lockdown’.

Unable to find a method to corner Modi, his critics continued to shift the goal post. Modi was targeted for elections (which is conducted by an independent Election Commission of India), Kumbh congregation (which was permitted by State Government and finally stopped at the request of Modi), Oxygen shortfall (for which State governments were equally responsible) and vaccine policy (which had received global applause hitherto), especially his endeavour to supply vaccines to the poorest of countries, which were left out by the rich nations, even though that was vital to stop the pandemic. Strangely, the western press never sought stopping Presidential elections and rallies in the US.

Although as head of government, Modi is responsible for everything that happens, fixing responsibility for a pandemic of foreign origin is like asking him to own up creating and spreading the novel Coronavirus across India. Added to that, global data about the same situation in other countries speaks a different truth altogether.

Till 12 July 2021 the US with 32.82 crore population has lost 622,845 lives to Coronavirus while India with its massive population chest of 139 crores lost 408,792 lives. The United Kingdom lost 128,425 lives out of a population of 6.66 crores. Even a single death is tragic and painful for families and this article never intended to use death as a barometer of comparative wellbeing. However, when motivated voices swear to bring disrepute to India, it is essential to dissect the facts.

Modi’s critics portrayed, the US and the UK as world’s leaders in medical sciences and healthcare. However, that did not prevent the pandemic from devastating those very countries where healthcare is supposedly best in the world. Yet, we never heard critics castigating the Covid policies of western governments. Instead, they inferred the pandemic as an unavoidable hazard.                     

A simple fact check reiterates the fact that no country could escape the attack of the virus. India’s health system, as per the constitutional arrangement, comes under concurrent subjects, which means that the federal government and state governments are equally accountable. Vilifying Modi is easy and while doing so, professional critics have exposed their biases as they refuse to turn the gun against other leaders who are presiding over similar situations in other countries.

Daily Deaths in India

Daily Deaths in United States

Daily Deaths in United Kingdom

All Sources: Worldometer

India was lucky to escape the ferocity of the Coronavirus during the early phase of 2020. Timely action by Modi in March 2020 produced incredible accomplishments. During April 2020, India’s response to the pandemic in retrospect looks like a model to be emulated by the rest of the world. Even then also Modi was criticised for locking up the economy. In 2021, during the second wave when Modi refused to lock the country, it was obvious that his critics could not miss the chance to hit him hard.

A few issues required scientific deliberations.

  • What Went Wrong? – Nothing went wrong. The culprit is the nature and novelty of the virus coupled with the inability of science to explain the novel Covid-19 in earnest. Scientists have aired a range of opinions – starting from herd immunity to automatic disappearance of the virus to age related immunity to mathematical rule of flattening of curve in a pandemic. The other fact is – the lifespan or longevity of the pandemic, which is anybody’s guess. Like any other nations, India was not prepared for the sudden eruption of a deadly pandemic.
  • Trajectory of the Virus – The Virus has confounded virologists, medical doctors and scientists. It morphs into so many symptoms without a pattern. We have persons affected by the same virus a) without any symptoms whatsoever; b) with mild symptoms; c) with severe symptoms pushing them into intensive care; d) in need of ventilators; and e) for some, leading to death. So, the trajectory of this virus is confusing. Science is yet to provide an explanation for those features.
  • Upcoming Rainy and Winter Seasons would Withstand the Rage of the Virus – The rainy season has already hurtled southern, eastern and western India. It may soon reach north India. Along with the rains, we may see the onset of malarial diseases, especially Dengue, Chikungunya, Swine Flu and common cold and seasonal flu. Winter season, which is some months away, would again bring more diseases like viral fever, stubble-burning affiliated illnesses, and common cold and flu. What is unavoidable is the intersection of these seasonal and regular illnesses with Coronavirus. Nearly all these diseases have similar symptoms and all these diseases overlap on each other and may produce severe medical consequences. We have to prepare for this worst yet inevitable scenario so that it may not surprise the public and overwhelm the health system.
  • Vaccine – India’s pharmacological prowess is an asset for the world. The World Health Organization stoically admitted the role of India, which is the largest vaccine supplier of the world. The second wave in India, which tied her hands to export vaccines abroad, has affected vaccination in 90 countries. Conventional wisdom and scientific research so far indicate that vaccines are the main insurance against the pandemic. Distributing vaccines to all of India’s population is no child’s play. However, India’s NITI Ayog has already made the clarification that by December 2021, the entire population of India will be vaccinated.

Therefore, we have to safely assume that the virus would continue to affect the way of living of not only our countrymen but of the citizens across the world during the ongoing/coming rainy season and upcoming winter season. It must be accepted that the next six to eight months would be more or less dominated by the virus – which may include the third wave with a more vicious variant.

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Dr Saroj Kumar Rath

Dr Saroj Kumar Rath teaches at the University of Delhi.

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