The Irish Times view on India’s Covid crisis: The price of complacency

Prime minister Narendra Modi has spent more time diminishing the pandemic’s seriousness than combating it

Multiple funeral pyres of  patients who died of Covid-19  are seen burning at a ground that has been converted into a crematorium for mass cremation of coronavirus victims, in New Delhi. Photograph: AP Photo

Multiple funeral pyres of patients who died of Covid-19 are seen burning at a ground that has been converted into a crematorium for mass cremation of coronavirus victims, in New Delhi. Photograph: AP Photo

 

As India on Thursday reported the world’s worst one-day rise in coronavirus infections so far – 314,835 – the country’s overwhelmed health system teetered on the verge of collapse. Deaths rose by 2,104 in the same time period, India’s worst daily toll. Total confirmed cases came close to 16 million, second only to the US.

The near-vertical rise in the graph of infections in the last couple of weeks in the country of more than 1.3 billion people is being linked to political complacency, poor infection control, new variants including a “double mutant” strain found in close to two-thirds of samples in the most afflicted state of Maharashtra, and “superspreader” events like the gathering of millions of Hindus last month for ritual bathing in the Ganges at Haridwar in Uttarakhand state. And prime minister Narendra Modi, who did nothing to dissuade devotees from gathering, is being sharply criticised for promoting mass rallies of his BJP in West Bengal which has been holding elections.

Critics have also pointed to the lagging vaccination effort in the country. India has administered more than 130 million doses, but the drive so far has been restricted to health workers, frontline staff and those above the age of 45, and anyone with comorbidities. A supply crunch, already affecting the drive, could slow it further.

Queues of desperate people have formed outside overwhelmed hospitals, unprepared for the second wave, where oxygen supplies have been a particular problem, with a number in the capital Delhi running out entirely on Thursday. Epitomising the problem, 22 patients on ventilators died in Maharashtra after a leaking oxygen tank was shut down at a government-run hospital.

India, and potentially the world, is paying a heavy price for Modi, who has spent more time diminishing the pandemic’s seriousness than combating it. A right-wing populist, his ego, contempt for science and Covid-19 complacency has all the hallmarks and irresponsibility of Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro.

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