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India's Covid-19 crisis worsens as deaths spiral out of control

PM Modi is accused of running a 'rotting' system as health authorities struggle to contain the pandemic

Nirendra Dev, New Delhi

Nirendra Dev, New Delhi

Published: April 14, 2021 04:22 AM GMT
India's Covid-19 crisis worsens as deaths spiral out of control

Hindu priests perform a ritual wishing to globally eradicate the coronavirus pandemic at a temple in Hyderabad, India, on April 13. (Photo: Noah Seelam/AFP)

A dangerous second Covid-19 wave is now sweeping across India's vast territory, killing some 700 people daily on average and forcing authorities to impose curfews and lockdowns in some areas.

On April 12, India recorded 904 Covid-19 deaths, the highest since the start of the month when pandemic deaths and new cases began to spiral. On average, 786 people died daily of Covid-19 on each day of the past week, official records show.

The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and economic experts were waiting for a recovery of the economy after the impact of last year's shutdown. But the second wave will weaken the recovery pace, says credit agency Moody's.

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“The second wave of infections presents a risk to our growth forecast as the reimposition of virus management measures will curb economic activity and could dampen market and consumer sentiment,” Moody’s said.

India reported 161,736 new cases and 879 deaths on April 13.

"Officials remain clueless and Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party and all government machinery are busy with provincial elections. The entire system has failed and is rotting," said Congress leader Ilyas Qureshi in Modi's native state of Gujarat.

In several cities of Gujarat, hospitals have run out of beds and infected people are seen lying on the open spaces in the hospital compound without having anyone to attend to them.

Major cities like Mumbai and New Delhi also report a lack of hospital bed. Media also reports shortages of oxygen and hospital beds in smaller towns.

According to officials, total coronavirus deaths in India have shot up to 171,205. In the most populous state of Uttar Pradesh in the north, the highest single-day spike of 18,021 cases and 85 fatalities was reported on April 13.

Restrictions on public gatherings and movements did not help the federal government's strategy last year.

On March 24, 2020, PM Modi announced a complete lockdown India had reported only nine deaths and 519 cases.

The University of Oxford has described India’s 68-day lockdown in 2020 as the "world's strictest" shutdown.  

It had a devastating impact on migrant workers and the poor. Thousands also lost their jobs and went back to rural India from large cities.

Observers say both government authorities and the common people have ignored the seriousness of the infection

However, when it comes to taking precautionary measures during the second wave, observers say both government authorities and the common people have ignored the seriousness of the infection.

Thousands of Hindu devotees have gathered in northern India to take a holy dip in the sacred Ganges River without following any Covid-19 protocols.

The pilgrims, including many monks, observed an auspicious bathing day on April 12 at Kumbh Mela in the town of Haridwar in Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled Uttarakhand state. The bathing was expected to continue for several days.

Health experts were always concerned that such large gatherings could only add to coronavirus woes. But authorities did not take any firm decision to cancel such a large congregation, reportedly fearing that it could hurt Hindu sentiments.

Elsewhere, it has been election season in five other states. Polling and campaigns are over in four states including Kerala and Tamil Nadu in the south. However, the remaining four phases of polling are yet to be held in West Bengal later this month.

Political parties continue to organize massive rallies while largely ignoring Covid-19 restrictions.

In Kolkata city, the nerve center of eastern India and capital of West Bengal state, leading hospitals could not vaccinate people for three consecutive days due to short supply.

India is one of the biggest global vaccine manufacturers and has exported millions of doses across the globe. Ironically, its own demand has increased manifold and it faces limited supplies.

Nationwide vaccination was launched in India with great pomp and ceremony in January, starting with health workers. Now, only 7-8 percent of nearly 1.4 billion people in India are estimated to have been vaccinated.

The restrictions will make things difficult for the Indian economy

Authorities have imposed lockdowns and partial lockdowns in Maharashtra in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, cities like Raipur and even in smaller towns in the development-starved state of Chhattisgarh. 

India's richest and most industrialized state, Maharashtra, will follow a curfew-like situation from April 14 to May 1, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray announced.

The restrictions will make things difficult for the Indian economy as nearly 15 percent of the country’s gross domestic product comes from Maharashtra.

There was a significant drop in growth in fiscal 2020-21.

The Confederation of All India Traders has said middle-level and small traders in Maharashtra will lose about 1 trillion rupees ($13.34 billion) during the curfew period.

"This is a curfew and we will discourage people from moving outside. Assembly of five or more persons will not be allowed," said Maharashtra politician Nawab Malik.

At the international level, India is now the second-most affected country by Covid-19 after the United States.

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