Rahul warns explosive Covid wave threatens India and the world

Published May 8, 2021
A health worker wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) carries a patient suffering from the coronavirus outside the casualty ward at Guru Teg Bahadur hospital in India. — Reuters
A health worker wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) carries a patient suffering from the coronavirus outside the casualty ward at Guru Teg Bahadur hospital in India. — Reuters

BENGALURU: India’s main opposition leader Rahul Gandhi warned on Friday that unless the deadly second Covid-19 wave sweeping the country was brought under control it would devastate India as well as threaten the rest of the world.

In a letter, Gandhi implored Prime Minister Narendra Modi to prepare for another national lockdown, accelerate a countrywide vaccination programme and scientifically track the virus and its mutations.

Gandhi said the world’s second-most populous nation had a responsibility in “a globalised and interconnected world” to stop the “explosive” growth of Covid -19 within its borders.

“India is home to one out of every six human beings on the planet. The pandemic has demonstrated that our size, genetic diversity and complexity make India fertile ground for the virus to rapidly mutate, transforming itself into a more contagious and more dangerous form,” wrote Gandhi.

“Allowing the uncontrollable spread of the virus in our country will be devastating not only for our people but also for the rest of the world.” India’s highly infectious Covid -19 variant B.1.617 has already spread to other countries, and many nations have moved to cut or restrict movements from India.

British Prime Minister Boris said on Friday the government needed to handle very carefully the emergence of new coronavirus strains in India that have since started to spread in the United Kingdom.

Meanwhile tonnes of medical equipment from abroad has starting to arrive in Delhi hospitals, in what could ease the pressure on an overburdened system.

In the past week, India has reported an extra 1.5 million new infections and record daily death tolls. Since the start of the pandemic, it has reported 21.49 million cases and 234,083 deaths. It currently has 3.6 million active cases.

Modi has been widely criticised for not acting sooner to suppress the second wave, after religious festivals and political rallies drew tens of thousands of people in recent weeks and became “super spreader” events.

His government - which imposed a strict lockdown in March 2020 - has also been criticised for lifting social restrictions too soon following the first wave and for delays in the country’s vaccination programme.

The government has been reluctant to impose a second lockdown for fear of the damage to the economy, though many states have announced their own restrictions.

Goa, a tourism hotspot on the west coast where up to one in two people tested in recent weeks for coronavirus have been positive, on Friday announced strict curbs from Sunday, restricting timings for grocery shops, forbidding unnecessary travel and urging citizens to cancel all gatherings.

While India is the world’s biggest vaccine maker, it is also struggling to produce and distribute enough doses to stem the wave of Covid -19.

Record infections

India reported another record daily rise in coronavirus cases, 414,188, on Friday, bringing total new cases for the week to 1.57 million. Deaths from Covid-19 rose by 3,915 to 234,083.

Medical experts say the real extent of Covid-19 is likely to be far higher than official tallies.

India’s healthcare system is crumbling under the weight of patients, with hospitals running out of beds and medical oxygen. Morgues and crematoriums cannot handle the number of dead and makeshift funeral pyres burn in parks and car parks.

Infections are now spreading from overcrowded cities to remote rural villages that are home to nearly 70% of the 1.3 billion population.

Published in Dawn, May 8th, 2021

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