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Opinion

Paying A Steep Price For The ‘Coronation’ Dip

At a time when the leader of the country is rather obsessed with the high turnout at his rallies, it is little surprise that politics is being played over human life.

Tragedy has hit the nation, as in the last 24 hours there have been more than 300,000 new covid cases in India. Reports of hospitals being overwhelmed, lack of oxygen, ventilators and medicines are being tweeted every two seconds. This is how the Indian public health system has collapsed.
While a week ago, it was being made to look like only Maharashtra had topped the list with the most numbers, the Kumbh Mela turned out to be the trigger point for the country. At a time when the leader of the country is rather obsessed with the high turnout at his rallies, it is little surprise that politics is being played over human life. What is rather frightening is the public faith in social media, Twitter, to be specific – with photos of oxygen levels of people gasping for breath and pleading for life. Not that the two most powerful leaders seem to hear.

 

Second wave deadlier

A year since the Covid-19 pandemic gripped the world, Indians were rather lackadaisical about maintaining health and sanitising protocols once the lockdown was eased. In less than a few weeks, a new variant, a double mutant, no less, has been detected in India and 10 other countries. However, the narrative put out was how we had victoriously overcome the virus, which was due to our special immunity system!  Basically, it was all an eyewash. Before we knew what had hit us,  more than 1.3 billion people are affected and 1,75,600 people have lost their lives. Like in Brazil, it is the youth and young ones who are succumbing, along with others. Clearly, the virus has become smarter, spreading faster than before, learning to lurk without being detected and cause grave damage.

As the virus was exploring new avenues of attack, our administrators and leaders became complacent, getting caught in poll festivities and refused to pay attention to the ground reality, that the virus had never really left our shores. When Maharashtra was being blamed for the sudden rise in cases during the vaccination process all hell broke loose. The state recorded one million cases in 18 days. The situation was tense, as Mumbai city had only 43 Covid-19 ICU beds.

 

Coronavirus patient In Ahmedabad waiting in Rikshaw to get a Hospital bed. (Source: Web)

 

While all the news channels were shouting that Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray had failed, quietly, government agencies of Uttar Pradesh and the Union government allowed thousands to assemble at the Kumbh Mela. And the whole world watched in horror, as thousands paraded about without masks and much less and a super-spreader event unfolded. Nearly 48.51 lakh participated in the shahi snans (royal baths) on April 12 and April 14. Health workers conducted tests and found 2, 000 positive. Many others returned to their states taking the virus with them. But sadly, the thought of halting this Hindu religious festival did not once cross the minds of our leaders. The second wave in India is being termed a ‘wall’ and has got all countries worried. In fact the chief of the World Health Organisation, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expressed concern: “Cases and deaths are continuing to increase at worrying rates”. It is the speed at which the virus is spreading that has got everyone worried. But what we are seeing instead, is the head of the country fascinated with his popularity, which does not seem to wane and the election rallies in West Bengal. Even now, the officials issued a notification saying the PM would conduct ‘meetings’ with participants, in times of Covid-19.

To return to the double variant, which was detected in India last October, there seems to be something wrong with how things work in India – even in a pandemic, constant monitoring seems to be missing. The trend in the rise of new infections was first seen in Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh and four Union Territories. Why was this not reported or given serious attention? One does not even know whether the states were alerted about this new variant. It was only on March 2 this year that the ministry of health and family welfare announced that 80 per cent of the cases were from these states. Along with this lackadaisical attitude, we are seriously lacking in authentic research development in public health. If one tots up the decreasing budgetary allocations to this crucial public sector in the last 10 years, it is no surprise we are in this situation today. And we are expecting accountability from these leaders.

Thousands of devotees gathered at Kumbh Mela in Haridwar for Shahi Snan (holy dip) in the river Ganges, flouting the social distancing norms. (Source: Web)

 

To all this chaos was added the sudden shortage of vaccines, going on till today. Most hospitals in Mumbai have said they will still require this week to restart offering the Covishield vaccine. In fact, the entire mess of shortage of medicines like Remedesivir and vaccines seems to have been created deliberately. A week ago, in the midst of a conversation with a friend from Delhi, it was evident that members of the Bharatiya Janata Party were coordinating to supply Remedesivir across the country. In fact, a video was released by Nationalist Congress Party leader Nawab Malik showing how people had gathered after being told about the distribution of this medicine. Then the Saturday night controversy, with the former CM of Maharashtra, who seems to be habitually courting controversy, rushing at midnight to Vile Parle police station as police were investigating Bruck Pharma company officials for black-marketing Remedesivir. The video circulated shows Devendra Fadnavis demanding answers from police, questioning them as if he is still in power. The FDA claims they have no clue how Fadnavis got involved, making it another murky affair.

Way ahead

Meanwhile, India has taken Brazil’s position as the repository of the world’s second-highest Covid cases. Despite the uncanny similarities between India and Brazil, sadly, the Indian media is currently in the worst situation. The Listening Post on Al Jazeera on Monday featured a fantastic development in Brazil. Some of Brazil’s biggest media houses have come together to combat Covid-19 misinformation, a lot of which is coming from President Jair Bolsonaro’s office. These reporters did not depend on dictated information. They asked for data and details directly from the governors and health secretaries of every state. Of course, there still are some pro-government media that President Bolsonaro can count on and of course, there is social media. Facebook and Twitter would have blocked him 29 times was he in the US or anywhere else other than Brazil. However, he has had a free hand. But, instead of sitting back and badmouthing each other, as many of our elite media people have been doing, these reporters have formed a good defence against government propaganda. The Listening Post has spoken to some of these reporters on how the media has been eroded in Brazil – the way the President’s office is indulging in giving false information which the citizens depend on, has also affected the vaccine programme.  Now, the new effort will help in making citizens empowered with information and arm themselves against the virus.

 

Stills from Indian news channel debates targeting Tablighi Jamat members for Covid spread. (Source: Web)

Is such an experiment tough to conduct in India? India claims to be a bigger and better democracy, unlike Brazil or most South American countries. Yet, it appears a tall order in the current situation. Journalists today believe in help from unknown people, with social media having replaced reliable agencies. It tells you of the disconnect between the citizens and the current dispensation. It is truly a tragedy for a country that claims to be the largest democracy but does not care for the lives of its people.

 

 

Neeta Kolhatkar is a senior journalist with over 30 years of work experience across different media platforms. She is currently a freelancer and media consultant.

(Views Expressed Are Personal)

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