COVID-19: From criticism of 'vaccine diplomacy' to undercounting of deaths, an overview of global coverage of crisis in India

International media outlets are questioning why the Indian government did not do enough to secure COVID-19 vaccines for its citizens

FP Staff May 11, 2021 15:32:30 IST
COVID-19: From criticism of 'vaccine diplomacy' to undercounting of deaths, an overview of global coverage of crisis in India

Representational image. AP

With COVID-19 cases remaining stubbornly high in India, a host of international media outlets have slammed the Central government over its handling of the pandemic.

India's coronavirus situation has been getting international media attention not just because of the scale of the crisis, but also due to the effect it has been having on other countries.

The Indian strain of the coronavirus has been found in at least 17 countries till now, including the United States, United Kingdom and Singapore. Also, after the second wave of the virus emerged in March, India delayed supplies of vaccines to several countries in order to meet its own needs.

In this context, here is an overview of global coverage of the COVID-19 crisis in India:

Vaccine shortages

While India's 'vaccine diplomacy' had earned it praise when the case count was low, international publications are now questioning why the government did not do enough to secure jabs for its own citizens first. An article in Foreign Policy noted that the government earlier allowed massive political rallies and refused to ban superspreader events such as the Kumbh Mela. "Moreover, despite the fact that an Indian pharmaceutical company called the Serum Institute of India (SII) has long been manufacturing a version of the AstraZeneca vaccine, Modi’s government did not procure the required doses to vaccinate India’s population in time," it noted.

The publication further remarked, "Even when production and supply are boosted, administering two jabs on even the most vulnerable would take two to three more months, which means that India’s recovery is going to be painfully slow."

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Chinese propaganda outlet Global Times referred to India's vaccine diplomacy and said, "Analysts said that at the early stage, India's vaccine diplomacy, trying to win neighboring countries over from China, an imaginary competitor, was extremely obvious. But the country has become the biggest source of concern in terms of exporting cases and the weakest link in the economic recovery of South Asia."

China has been seeking to secure its strategic objectives by offering COVID-19 -related to assistance — including PPE kits, masks and now vaccines. In some cases, Beijing is said to have tied distribution of vaccines to the advancement of projects under the Belt and Road Initiative.

Underreporting

Another issue which international media has highlighted is alleged undercounting of coronavirus cases and deaths.

This comes on the back of several statistical estimates pointing to this possibility. For instance, the US-based Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation has estimated that India is only detecting about three to four percent of its actual cases.

In this context, an editorial in The Guardian wrote, "Like India’s see-no-evil approach to malaria or tuberculosis, its Covid obfuscation suppresses “bad news” in order to buoy the country’s international image and the government party’s domestic standing. Not all countries with struggling health systems do this. Some actually at times overcount deaths from other viruses in order to get more humanitarian aid. But undercounting disease is, in many ways, far more sinister."

Commenting on the possible reasons behind undercounting of deaths, an article in The New York Times wrote, "Interviews from cremation grounds across the country, where the fires never stop, portray an extensive pattern of deaths far exceeding the official figures. Nervous politicians and hospital administrators may be undercounting or overlooking large numbers of dead, analysts say. And grieving families may be hiding COVID connections as well, adding to the confusion in this enormous nation of 1.4 billion."

The rising COVID-19 numbers in India and the vaccine shortages have also had ripple effects outside the country. These effects have also been the subject of media scrutiny. For instance, an article in Al Jazeera noted, "Africa is watching aghast as India struggles with coronavirus , fearing a long-running shortfall in the Indian-made vaccines that it needs to help protect its people. Often dubbed the 'pharmacy of the world', India is one of the biggest suppliers of the AstraZeneca vaccine under the COVAX programme to help immunisation in poorer countries...But India has been hammered by an explosive growth in infections – accelerated, say scientists, by a new variant."

Global media outlets have also expressed concerns about what India's devastating second wave of coronavirus might mean for the global economy. One such view was expressed in an article in Forbes, which read, "The COVID-19 emergency in India isn’t merely a humanitarian crisis of potentially monumental proportions. It also has negative repercussions for global economic growth, international reopening plans, and supply chains for a wide variety of products, including vaccines."

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