India choking from coronavirus: Solidarity and international assistance
The scale, rapidity and lethality of the double mutant COVID-19 virus now circulating in India is causing fatalities and sufferings of an unprecedented magnitude.
Images of young and old gasping for oxygen, desperately seeking a hospital bed, falling and dying in the streets-- the overflowing crematoriums, flames of burning pyres in parking lots, mass funerals, the melted iron and steel of furnaces continuously being used, the absence of oxygen cylinders and essential medical supplies are shocking beyond belief.
Noted Indian Journalist Barkha Dutt has done extensive and bold video coverage of the ravages of this second wave of the pandemic, underscoring its various galling facets. Depite losing her father to COVID-19, Barkha is alive to the wider aspects of this ‘eruption’ that could shake and ‘change the world forever.’
India with its 1.4 billion people-- the world’s second largest population after China-- a vast country with lots of poor people and a democracy, matters to the region and the world. The COVID-19 outcome in India will thus be consequential for mankind as a whole.
Epidemiologists believe that the situation will worsen before it gets better. In a globalized world, it is impossible to contain the spread to other parts of the world. This virus has demonstrated its ability to mutate and it is not yet known if it can be effectively and totally deterred by vaccines. So far, it is outstripping science. Some believe that this pandemic will abate once everyone is infected and the community develops herd immunity. But is this really assured? And what will be the extent of damages wrought on social, economic and political life?
Political, economic and social unrest caused by super spreader events such as the farmers protest, the mass electoral rallies particularly in West Bengal, the Kumbh festival, religious zealotry and most of all, the indifference and incompetence of political leaders and weak governance are key factors that have contributed to the mayhem.
The international community must extend urgent assistance to India. Primary needs such as oxygen equipment and medical supplies need to be rushed. Token gestures of solidarity are not enough. India also needs to understand that in times like these, business as usual is not an option. Nationalism and patriotism must not come in the way of accepting assistance from any or all quarters. Information about the virus needs to be shared with the WHO and scientific quarters around the globe. Lack of accurate data or a cover up will only aggravate the situation and hinder the global fight against the pandemic.
Even developed countries have struggled in suppressing the virus, and developing countries are ill-equipped to deal with the pandemic on their own. The world was banking on India to provide vaccine supplies due to its robust pharmaceutical capacity. The Quad Summit had prioritized the anti-Covid-19 campaign with India playing a leading role.
Contrary to all these expectations, the health system in India has collapsed completely.
Some quick inferences need to be drawn from this horrific experience. Political, economic and social unrest caused by super spreader events such as the farmers protest, the mass electoral rallies particularly in West Bengal, the Kumbh festival, religious zealotry and most of all, the indifference and incompetence of political leaders and weak governance are key factors that have contributed to the mayhem.
Dutt calls it ‘murder’ when the right to life, the right to breathe, is denied or not provided for by the state. And when the ruling party goes into ‘denial’ mode and even refuses to accept the dire reality by fudging statistics and asking laboratories to downplay Covid-19 test results.
The mainstream media is silenced, and social media choked or accused of being an accomplice of the opposition. Truly, this is politics taken too far.
Among India’s immediate neighbors, Pakistan and China have been quick to offer assistance. The US and Europe are also gearing up to provide assistance. Signs of solidarity and support are now becoming visible. The well-wishers will face the impediments of a strange hubris that has shrouded India, a pretense of greatness that is built on the daily sufferings of over a billion people.
It is imperative that the WHO is given free and complete access to be able to evaluate the situation and determine the nature of the double mutant or other Indian strains of the virus. Global vaccine producers can use such access also to re-jig the vaccines so as to make them effective against lethal new strains.
The economic impact of the pandemic will affect particularly the poor and middle classes. This aspect will require special handling.
The people of Pakistan are shocked and saddened by the enormity of the tragedy now afflicting India. It is our hope that the horrible suffering in our neighborhood ends soon.
- Salman Bashir is a Pakistani diplomat who served as Foreign Secretary of Pakistan and as High Commissioner of Pakistan to India.