‘The system has collapsed’: India’s descent into Covid hell
Many falsely believed that the country had defeated Covid. Now hospitals are running out of oxygen and bodies are stacking up in morgues
Looking out over a sea of jostling, maskless faces gathered at a political rally in West Bengal on Saturday, the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, proudly proclaimed that he had “never ever seen such huge crowds”. A mask was also noticeably absent from Modi’s face.
That same day, India registered a record-breaking 234,000 new coronavirus cases and 1,341 deaths – and the numbers have kept rising since.
The country has descended into a tragedy of unprecedented proportions. Almost 1.6 million cases have been registered in a week, bringing total cases to more than 15 million. In the space of just 12 days, the Covid positivity rate doubled to 17%, while in Delhi it hit 30%. Hospitals across the country have filled to capacity but this time it is predominately the young taking up the beds; in Delhi, 65% of cases are under 40 years old.
While the unprecedented spread of the virus has been partly blamed on a more contagious variant that has emerged in India, Modi’s government has also been accused of failures of political leadership from the top, with lax attitudes emulated by state and local leaders from all parties and even health officials across the country, which led many to falsely believe in recent months that India had defeated Covid.
“Leadership across the country did not adequately convey that this was an epidemic which had not gone away,” said K Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India.
“Victory was declared prematurely and that ebullient mood was communicated across the country, especially by politicians who wanted to get the economy going and wanted to get back to campaigning. And that gave the virus the chance to rise again.”