May 09, 2021

India in Deathly Grip of Covid-19 as Modi Government Continues its Andher Nagari Policies

Prabir Purkayastha

THE Covid-19 pandemic that has India in its deathly grip, is nowhere near its end. India is now registering numbers that have broken all “records”. Currently more than half of all new cases per day in the world are from India! While the number of daily new cases have started to show a slow decline, it is accompanied by a drop in the number of tests conducted. The drop in new cases may therefore be due to fewer tests rather than a real drop in new cases. Are we running out of test kits and testing personnel for conducting tests? Or is it simply to massage the current disastrous figures that we are doing a smaller number of tests?

Worryingly, while the states that faced the early onslaught—Maharashtra, Punjab, Delhi—are seeing a drop or flattening of numbers, other states, particularly the ones which held elections recently show a rapid increase. The worst of course is West Bengal. The Election Commission’s eight-phase election schedule for Bengal seemed to have been drawn up keeping Modi’s election campaign in mind and was completely oblivious of the rising Covid-19 numbers.

The collapse of the hospital system which we are witnessing is because the number of patients has far outstripped the capacity of the hospitals. It is not only the hospital beds but also the health staff—doctors, nurses, other health workers—being stretched far beyond their capacity. The poor supply of oxygen has only sharpened the crisis of the hospitals. While Delhi has been particularly hard hit by the oxygen crisis, we also have a similar crisis in Karnataka, Maharashtra, Bihar. And even in UP, there is an oxygen crisis, even though talking about it can lead to the Adityanath government invoking the NSA. If you have to die of Covid-19, die quietly; don’t embarrass the Yogi government. In Delhi, Tushar Mehta, the Solicitor General, was “kinder”: he only suggested that Delhi government was being a “cry baby” by complaining about a lack of oxygen in the Delhi High Court. Again, don’t complain, just die quietly. Don’t embarrass the Modi government in its monumental failure to either prepare for the current peak or do the minimum governance required to face this crisis.

If numbers are flattening or falling in states like Delhi, why are we still seeing a continuing oxygen and hospital crisis there? There are two reasons for this. Out of the people who fall ill today, some will become seriously ill after a week or 10 days. So, there is a gap between the peak in new cases and the peak of serious cases. The serious cases peak can lag the peak of new cases by some days. It is not the number of new cases that causes a hospital crisis. The new cases give us the trajectory of the pandemic, is it growing or flattening? What stresses the hospital system is the total number of seriously ill cases at a given point in time. To estimate this number, we need to look at the total number of active cases.  If these rise, so will the number of serious cases. 

The number of active cases will fall only when the number of people recovering exceeds the number of new cases. If this does not happen, the number of active cases will continue to rise, and eventually leading to the collapse of the hospitals. If we look at the number of active cases in the country, it stands at more than 34 lakhs (May 4th, and the curve is still rising! In Maharashtra again, the number of active cases is rising, even though Mumbai number of active cases is dropping. The Mumbai drop is "compensated" by the increase in cases from other areas and therefore a continuation of the crisis in Maharashtra. Similarly, even though the number of new cases in Delhi is coming down, the active cases are still to show any significant change. That is why the hospital crisis of Delhi continues.

That is the core of the current crisis. The major reason for deaths during an epidemic is when the number of serious patients outstrips the availability of hospital beds and the supply of oxygen. That is when fatalities start mounting; as we are witnessing now.

From the Delhi High Court proceedings, it is clear that Delhi is getting significantly less oxygen than what its hospitals require. As an example, the Delhi government stated in the high court that it needed 976 metric tonnes of oxygen on May 3rd. Against this requirement, the central government first allotted it 700 metric tonnes and then supplied only 433 metric tonnes. If the hospitals required 976 MT and received only about half of that, how much oxygen did the patients receive? Half of what they needed? No wonder, the death rates are climbing sharply. Not only have patients died in the more well-known cases of Gangaram, Jaipur Golden, or Batra due to oxygen failure, are also dying as they are not getting enough oxygen in the hospitals. Or are continuing in a critical condition for long periods, not receiving the most important medicine that they need: oxygen. Add to that all those who are not finding hospital beds and are making do with oxygen concentrators or oxygen cylinders at home; that too if they are lucky. Those who are serious will require a higher flow than what the oxygen concentrators can provide. Across the country, critically ill patients are being treated or dying at home, as hospital beds are not available.

The Modi government’s centralisation of incompetence becomes even starker when we see the time it took to reverse its ban on oxygen supply for producing oxygen cylinders. Production of oxygen cylinders is industrial use, and maybe we can excuse the initial mistake of the government on not making an exception. But does it take two weeks to reverse this order and make available the required oxygen for producing oxygen cylinders?

Perhaps the BJP government truly believed its propaganda on its great “success” in stopping the pandemic. In the World Economic Forum in January this year, Modi declared, “In a country which is home to 18 per cent of the world population, that country has saved humanity from a big disaster by containing Corona effectively.” The ruling BJP’s national executive in February applauded Modi: “The party unequivocally hails its leadership for introducing India to the world as a proud and victorious nation in the fight against Covid.” This pyrrhic victory and vain-glorious claims are doubly painful as we grapple with a wave that makes the earlier one seems like a trailer. This is the price that the people are paying for the utter incompetence of the Modi government.