India’s Covid-19 crisis worsens amid blame game
INDIA is witnessing a sharp spike in Covid-19 cases after months of declining numbers had given the country hope it had made it through the worst of the pandemic relatively unscathed.
On March 1, India recorded just 12 286 new cases, but since early April this figure has rocketed to over 100 000 every day. Earlier this week, it hit a record of 168 912 cases in a day – the highest in the world.
As the health crisis escalates, the poor are once again fearing a return to lockdown and economic hardship. Migrants have started fleeing from cities to their home villages in order to avoid the pain and trauma they went through a year ago when Prime Minister Narendra Modi enacted a nationwide lockdown. Many cities, including Mumbai and Delhi, have already announced nightly curfews.
For now, the Indian government has just asked the states to focus on “stringent containment and public health measures”, including testing, tracing and inoculations. Modi has also appealed to
people to get vaccinated during a fourday “Tika Utsav” (special vaccination drive), which began on Sunday.
However, the situation remains grim. Even though India is one of the world’s biggest coronavirus vaccine manufacturers, some states are experiencing vaccine shortages. At the same time, experts fear a lack of social distancing and new variants of the
virus are causing infections to potentially spiral out of control.
When Covid-19 first appeared in India last year, the Modi government was quick to bring the country together.
In a speech to the nation last March, he announced a 21-day nationwide lockdown of 1.3 billion people with only four hours’ notice.
All means of transportation were suspended. The rich and affluent started hoarding food and medicines, while the poor worried about their livelihoods. A mass migration ensued as hundreds of millions of migrant workers headed from the major cities back to their home villages on foot.
This was the most visible face of the humanitarian crisis. Others, however, suffered out of the public eye, such as the street vendors, waste pickers, domestic workers and shopkeepers in slums, all forced to stop working.
As part of a study last year, I helped conduct six rounds of telephone surveys in 20 diverse slums in the city of Patna, the capital of the north-eastern Bihar state, from July to November.
Nearly all slum residents we spoke with – except the rare few with protected formal-sector jobs – were cut off suddenly from their sources of income after the lockdown was announced. And more than 80% of slum households in Patna lost their entire primary source of income.
Undoubtedly, Modi still remains popular among most ordinary people.
When he says something, India listens carefully. It worked well last year, and his appeal compelled people to wear masks and maintain social distancing, helping to flatten the curve and limit the loss of lives.
However, making public speeches will not be enough during this second wave. The prime minister needs to be seen adhering to these practices in his own daily life, but this is not happening on the ground.
In the ongoing elections in West Bengal, Assam, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, as well as the election in Bihar last year, Modi and other party leaders have addressed rallies without paying much attention to Covid-19 restrictions. Modi himself has addressed more than 20 rallies attended by thousands of unmasked people.