Narendra Modi’s government seems more intent on removing criticism on Twitter than trying to control the COVID pandemic, The Lancet said in a scathing editorial on Saturday.
The prime minister’s actions in attempting to stifle criticism and open discussion during the crisis are “inexcusable”, the medical journal said.
The editorial quoting The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates that India will see a staggering 1 million deaths from COVID-19 by August 1. “If that outcome were to happen, Modi’s government would be responsible for presiding over a self-inflicted national catastrophe.”
“Despite warnings about the risks of superspreader events, the government allowed religious festivals to go ahead, drawing millions of people from around the country, along with huge political rallies—conspicuous for their lack of COVID-19 mitigation measures. The message that COVID-19 was essentially over also slowed the start of India’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign, which has vaccinated less than 2% of the population,” the journal said.
“At the federal level, India’s vaccination plan soon fell apart. The government abruptly shifted course without discussing the change in policy with states, expanding vaccination to everyone older than 18 years, draining supplies, and creating mass confusion and a market for vaccine doses in which states and hospital systems competed.”
The Lancet said India must now pursue a two-pronged strategy to tackle the pandemic. “First, the botched vaccination campaign must be rationalised and implemented with all due speed. There are two immediate bottlenecks to overcome: increasing vaccine supply (some of which should come from abroad) and setting up a distribution campaign that can cover not just urban but also rural and poorer citizens, who constitute more than 65% of the population (over 800 million people) but face a desperate scarcity of public health and primary care facilities.”
The journal said the government must work with local and primary health-care centres, which know their communities, and create an equitable distribution system for the vaccine.
“Second, India must reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission as much as possible while the vaccine is rolled out. As cases continue to mount, the government must publish accurate data in a timely manner, and forthrightly explain to the public what is happening and what is needed to bend the epidemic curve, including the possibility of a new federal lockdown. Genome sequencing needs to be expanded to better track, understand, and control emerging and more transmissible SARS-CoV-2 variants. Local governments have begun taking disease-containment measures, but the federal government has an essential role in explaining to the public the necessity of masking, social distancing, halting mass gatherings, voluntary quarantine, and testing.
“Modi’s actions in attempting to stifle criticism and open discussion during the crisis are inexcusable.”