But voices like his fell silent in federal government messages, suggesting that India had somehow outwitted the virus. The hype was so strong that even some medical professionals bought it. A professor from Harvard Medical School told the financial daily Mint that “the pandemic in India behaved in a very unique way.”
“The real harm in counting is that people will take the pandemic lightly,” says Arun. “If supposedly few people die out of caution, the public will think it doesn’t kill and won’t change their behavior.” In fact, by mid-December, India had reached another grim milestone: it had recorded a tens of millions of infections. It was the second country to do so, after the United States.
The government did not use the first lock wisely, but December was an opportunity to fix things, says Gagandeep Kang, a professor of microbiology at the Christian Medical College in Vellore, Tamil Nadu. He says a number of tactics – boosting sequencing, studying public behavior, gathering more data, denying permission for more widespread events and launching vaccines earlier than planned – would save many lives during the now inevitable second wave.
Instead, she says, the government continued its “top-down approach,” in which bureaucrats rather than scientists and health workers made decisions.
“We live in a very unequal society,” she says. “So we need to engage people and build partnerships at a detailed level if we want to deliver information and resources efficiently.”
In December, the Goa government completely demolished its guard. The state relies heavily on tourism, which accounts for almost 17% of its revenues. The majority of tourists show up in December to celebrate Christmas and New Year on sandy beaches with ravens and fireworks.
Vivek Menezes, a Goan journalist, says the country’s reputation as a “place to be” did not disappear during the pandemic. “It’s a place for the Indian rich and for Bollywood, and therefore for India,” Menezes says. The pandemic prevented foreign tourists from visiting, but domestic vacationers were pouring in. Some states, such as the Maharashtra, have placed restrictions on their borders; others, like Kerala, had a strict contact-seeking policy. In Goa, visitors did not even have to show a negative covid test. And the state’s camouflage policy has extended only to health workers, visitors to health facilities and people showing symptoms. “Goa was left to the dogs,” says Menezes.
The world’s largest expander
India started in 2021 with almost 150,000 deaths. It was only then, in January, that the government issued the first order for the vaccine for a shockingly small quantity – just 11 million doses of Covishield, the Indian version of the AstraZeneca vaccine. He also ordered 5.5 million doses of Covaxin, a locally developed vaccine that has not yet released efficacy data. Those orders were not far from what the country actually needed. Subhash Salunke, a senior adviser to the Independent Public Health Foundation in India, estimates that 1.4 billion doses would be needed to fully vaccinate all eligible adults.
January 28, in an address to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Modi declared that India “saved humanity from a great catastrophe by effectively containing the crown.” His government then gave the green light for the Hindu festival Kumbh Mela, which attracts crowds of millions to the holy city of Haridwar in the northern state of Uttarakhand, which is known for its temples and pilgrimage sites. When the former chief minister of the state suggested that this year’s festival should be “symbolic” given the circumstances, he was fired.
Senior politician in Prime Minister Bharatiya Janata’s party said Indian magazine The Caravan that the federal government had cast an eye on the upcoming state elections and did not want to lose the support of religious leaders. As it turned out, Kumbh was not any extended event – with 9.1 million people registered, it was a worldwide the biggest an event of wider spread. “Anyone who has a basic textbook on public health would tell you it’s not the time,” Kang says.
In February, Salunke, a public health expert, was working in an agricultural district in the western state of Maharashtra, when he noticed that the virus was being transmitted “much faster” than before. It affected entire families.
“I felt we were dealing with an agent that had changed or seemed to have changed,” he says. “I started researching.” It now turns out that Thessaloniki found one mutation of a variant that was discovered in India the previous October. He doubted that the variant, which is now known as the delta, would be released. It is. It is now in more than 90 countries.
“I went to all those who are responsible and those who are important – regardless of whether they are district officials or central bureaucrats. I immediately shared this information with everyone I knew, ”he says.
Salunke’s discovery does not appear to have affected the official response. Even as the second wave accelerated even after the WHO designated the new mutation as a “variant of interest” on April 4, Modi continued his hectic schedule ahead of the state elections in West Bengal, appearing in person at numerous public rallies.
At one point he gloated about the size of the crowd he was attracted to: “I see huge crowds of people in all directions … I’ve never seen such a crowd at a gathering.”
“The groups are a direct message from the leadership that the virus has not disappeared,” says Laxminarayan of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy.
The second wave filled hospitals, where beds, oxygen and drugs quickly ran out, forcing patients panting to wait – and then die – in homes, in Parking spacesand further sidewalks. Crematoria had to build makeshift bonfires to keep up with demand, and there were some reports that the ash spill had carried him so far that he had stained his clothes a mile away. Many poor people could not afford to pay for funeral rites and the bodies of their loved ones were dived directly into the Ganges River, leading to hundreds of corpses being washed ashore in several states. Along with these apocalyptic scenes came the news that deadly fungal infections prevailed in sick patients, probably as a result of poorer infection control and excessive steroid dependence in virus treatment.
The chaos continues; The delta is expanding
And there was Modi all the time. The Prime Minister was the face of India’s fight against the pandemic – literally: his shot to the head appears in a prominent place on the certificate given to people who receive the vaccine. But after the second wave, his premature triumphalism was ridiculed and his unwillingness was widely ridiculed. Since then, he has largely disappeared from public view, leaving colleagues to shift the blame elsewhere, mostly – and inaccurately – to the government’s political opposition. As a result, the Indians left themselves to the greatest national crisis of their lives.
This abandonment created a sense of companionship among some groups of Indians, with many use social media and WhatsApp to help themselves by sharing information about hospital beds and oxygen cylinders. They also organized in the field, sharing meals with those in need.
But the leadership vacuum has also created a large market for profiteers and fraudsters at the highest levels. In May, opposition politicians accused BJP ruling party leader Tejaswi Suryu of involvement in a vaccine commission scam. And Goe Health Minister Vishwajit Rane was forced to deny claims he played a role in a scam involving the purchase of fans. Even the prime minister’s signature fund to help assistants, Cares, found itself under fire from critics after spending 2,250 kroner (over $ 300 million) on 60,000 fans that doctors later complained were defective and “Too risky to use.” The fund, which attracted at least $ 423 million in donations, also expressed concern about corruption and a lack of transparency.
A successful vaccination agenda may have helped erase the memory of a series of wrong steps, but under Modi it was just one technocratic mistake after another. In late May, with far fewer vaccines in hand than needed, the government announced plans to start mixing doses of different types of vaccines. And at the height of the second wave, he introduced Co-WIN, an online booking system that was mandatory for anyone under the age of 45 trying to get vaccinated. System, which has been under scrutiny for months, was catastrophic: not only did it automatically shut down those who don’t use computers and smartphones, but it was also hit by software bugs, and people desperately sought it out to protect it.