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Covid in India: A Global Concern

Martha Davies reports on the devastation in India where the new coronavirus variant is rampant.

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Despite faring well at the beginning of the pandemic, India is currently experiencing a huge spike in cases, recording some of the highly daily infection rates in the world. Hospitals are struggling to accommodate patients, facing severe shortages in vital resources such as oxygen, while the Indian variant of the virus triggers anxiety across the world.

Since mid-March, India has seen a staggering rise in coronavirus cases: 400,000 daily cases were recorded on Friday, 30 April, and though the numbers fell slightly in the days following this, they have begun to increase once again. 

What is the Situation in India?

India emerged from their first wave of infections in a better state than most countries. When the pandemic began in March 2020, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered an immediate and strict lockdown, shutting down schools, workplaces and all shops except those providing essential goods. This helped to curb India’s Covid numbers, and despite cases climbing to almost 100,000 per day, the situation started to improve by September 2020.

But with the government permitting people to gather in celebration of the Hindu festival Kumbh Mela in April, as well as those attending political rallies preceding state elections, Covid cases have spiked once again. The risk of infection is particularly high in impoverished regions, where people live in cramped conditions with shared sanitation and water access, meaning they cannot adhere to social distancing. Those living in rural areas - in which almost 70% of India’s population reside - are also seriously at risk as access to medical support is extremely limited. All this is compounded by contagious new variants that have materialised in recent months.

What is Happening Inside Hospitals?

Overrun with patients, India’s hospitals can no longer cope. Doctors have sent out urgent appeals for oxygen after resources have completely run out in areas such as Delhi. Small hospitals without storage tanks are struggling even further.

Without adequate supplies of oxygen, staff have been forced to turn patients away, though portable oxygen cylinders are equally hard to come by meaning patients can no longer be cared for by their families outside of hospitals. People have been forced to queue for hours, frantically searching in nearby shops and clinics for extra supplies, while small networks of doctors and suppliers have been set up in the hope of helping more people access oxygen tanks.

What Help is Needed?

The rapid increase in cases is not only ravaging India’s healthcare system, but impacting both testing and vaccination programmes across the country. Testing rates have dipped since cases began to spike, and it is clear that with facilities and staff under huge pressure, India is struggling to test large numbers of people.

Meanwhile, vaccination provision has also suffered amid the country’s second wave of cases; though 175 million doses have already been given out, vaccine rollout has slowed in recent weeks. The Indian government - already under fire for failing to contain the rise in cases - have emphasised that those administering vaccinations must continue to do so despite the difficulties posed by new infections.

India is the largest supplier of vaccines in the world, but they are currently facing huge difficulties in manufacturing enough doses. The government has temporarily banned vaccine exports to other countries while they attempt to control their second wave. This decision is a serious one, as neighbouring countries such as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka rely heavily on India for their inoculations. 

The Indian Variant

The Indian variant of coronavirus is also generating mounting global concern, as it is suspected to be more transmissible than other mutations of the virus. Questions have been raised as to whether the easing of lockdown in the UK will be affected, as a number of towns in England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland have reported a significant number of infections from this variant in recent weeks. Boris Johnson has expressed alarm, but has made no comment as yet about changes to the easing of restrictions, and surge testing is being carried out in areas in which the variant is particularly prevalent.

India’s second wave of coronavirus is an urgent issue that must be acknowledged. Though the Indian variant poses its own risks closer to home, we must also focus our attention and support on the people within India who are battling the pandemic with severely limited resources.


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