In January Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that India has won the battle against COVID-19 and a resolute battle to emerge victorious out of the pandemic will be cherished for long.
India under the leadership Modi has fought the most successful battle against coronavirus in the world, and with the beginning of the vaccination drive, the country has taken the fight against the pandemic to the final stage, Home Minister Amit Shah also said in January.
Fast forward to May: India on Thursday (May 6) reported 4,12,262 new cases of the virus and 3,980 deaths in the previous 24 hours, according to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. The country’s tally has now surged past the 2.1 crore mark.
The BJP and Modi’s eagerness to declare victory over COVID to get votes is proving fatal to the country with nearly 4,000 recorded deaths and uncounted fatalities each passing day. Had the PM come out of his imaginary world where ‘sab changa si‘ (everything is fine) and listened to his own officers, the situation would have been much different.
In November 2020, the 123rd parliamentary standing committee for health had advised the government to immediately look into the oxygen issue and had forecast a second wave. The government chose to ignore the report of its own members.
The committee had said in its report that the pandemic has led to an unprecedented increase in demand for non-invasive oxygen cylinders and instances of lack of oxygen cylinders in hospitals had also been reported. The committee recommended the government must encourage adequate production of oxygen to ensure its supply as per demand in hospitals.
The committee ‘strongly’ advocated for a national pharmaceutical pricing authority to take appropriate measures for capping the price of oxygen cylinders so that availability as well as affordability of the cylinders is ensured in all hospitals.
The committee said districts and states with poor public health sectors need to be identified on a priority basis and provided the required infrastructure for tracing, testing and treatment by giving the required financial aid.
“The second wave of COVID has been witnessed in European countries and the committee, therefore, feels that India must also be prepared to combat a possible second wave of corona especially in the ensuing winter season and super spreading series of festival events,” said the committee in November 2020.
The double mutant, medically identified as B.1.617 variant of SARS-CoV-2, was first found in Maharashtra in January 2021. Many scientists had flagged warnings that this could be a super spreader and the government should prepare to fight it. But ignoring the scientists, the PM in January continued to pat his own back on defeating COVID-19.
Apart from this, a forum of scientific advisers set up by the government warned Indian officials in early March of a new and more contagious variant of the coronavirus taking hold in the country, five scientists who are part of the forum told Reuters.
The Centre was also given advance warning on April 2 of a surge in coronavirus cases that would peak around the middle of May, Dr M Vidyasagar, who is a professor at IIT (Hyderabad) and leads the COVID-19 Supermodel Committee, told NDTV.
Also read: Why Kerala has been overwhelmed by COVID 2.0
Dr Vidyasagar said the Centre was warned of a predicted peak of around 1.2 lakh new cases per day sometime between May 15 and 22. The timing of the peak was later revised to the first week of May.
“I think everyone could see cases were beginning to rise. By March 13 the numbers were showing a clear upward trend. But at that point, we lacked data to make a prediction. On April 2 we made a formal prediction — of around 1.2 lakh new cases per day by May 15 to 22,” Dr Vidyasagar said.
But again, without paying any heed to the predictions, the PM continued his Bengal election rallies without even wearing a mask. In fact on April 17, ahead of a state election, a mask-less prime minister boasted to a sea of cheering supporters: “I’ve never ever seen such huge crowds at a rally.”
At the same time, the Maha Kumbh in Haridwar also took place which the government refused to cancel. Media reports suggest at least 40 lakh pilgrims visited Haridwar for the Maha Kumbh this year. The event is said to be a super spreader to the extent that in a Madhya Pradesh district, 99 per cent of Kumbh returnees were found positive for COVID-19.
On top of all, the country’s national scientific task force on COVID-19, which is supposed to advise the Centre on its response to the pandemic, did not meet even once during February and March, its members told The Caravan.
Two members of the national scientific task force, comprising leading scientists from across the country, and another member of a sub-group, which is assisting the task force, have confirmed that they did not meet even once in the two months prior to the current explosion of cases in April. This year, they said, the task force met on January 11, and then on April 15 and 21, after India was hit by the surge.
The national vice-president of the Indian Medical Association (IMA) Dr Navjot Dahiya, because of all reasons mentioned in the report, called Modi a ‘super spreader’ and blamed him for the second.
“While the medical fraternity is trying hard to make people understand the mandatory COVID norms, Prime Minister Modi did not hesitate to address big political rallies ignoring all COVID norms,” said Dr Dahiya.
“The scarcity of medical oxygen has become the reason for the death of many patients in every part of the country against the fact that several projects for installing the oxygen are still pending with the Union government for clearance, but no heed was given to such an important need by the Modi government,” he added.