From virus to vaccine, how has India done in the war against COVID?
Today, while India has the second highest number of cases after the US and third highest deaths after the US and Brazil, it has one of the lowest per capita cases and deaths
With India rolling out the world’s largest vaccination programme on 16 January, it is impossible not to look back at the extraordinary things that have happened in the last one year.
When the COVID-19 pandemic started, several nations with advanced medical care and infrastructure looked tin sheds in a twister. They were helpless, being battered around, losing thousands of their citizens to the disease.
There was great and genuine concern about what kind of havoc the coronavirus would wreak in India. The country had a rickety health system and woefully insufficient number of beds. It did not produce PPE kits. There were not enough masks. Public awareness about hygiene was abysmal, making a population of 1.3 billion at grave danger unto itself.
Some pundits projected that 20 to 30 million Indians would die by July. It did not happen.
Instead, India resiliently started a massive exercise of fortifying itself against the killer. It started building its health system almost ground up. Millions of masks and PPE suits started getting produced, the number of beds, ventilators and intensive care units shot up impressively. Almost the entire citizenry started wearing masks and washing or sanitising their hands frequently.
At every point, Prime Minister Narendra Modi underlined the enormity of the war against the pandemic. His messaging was wide and clear. Unlike some other world leaders like US president Donald Trump or UK prime minister Boris Johnson, Modi never for once took his mask down or acted in a cavalier fashion.
A massive blip came when millions of migrant workers lost jobs and got stranded because of the prolonged lockdown. The government could have handled the miserable exodus and plight of the poor better. It tried to alleviate some of that misery through a series of steps including direct benefit transfers.
Today, while India has the second highest number of cases after the US and third highest deaths after the US and Brazil, it has one of the lowest per capita cases and deaths. India’s COVID cases per million is 7,611, compared with the US’s 73,198, UK’s 49,315 and France’s 44,288, for instance.
India’s COVID deaths per million stands at 110, compared with the US’s 1,220, UK’s 1,301 and Italy’s 1,354.
Both new infections and deaths have started falling drastically.
For such a large, developing country, taming the monster virus from China has been remarkable. It has now embarked on vaccinating 300 million people by August.
This is nothing less than war.
In wartime, politicians rise above partisans politics to stand with the government. One cannot accuse India’s Opposition of such magnanimity. The Congress is still quibbling over the vaccination process. Samajwadi Party leader has called upon his vote bank to boycott the “BJP vaccine”.
In Bengal, trucks full of vaccines have been stopped in the name of farmers’ protest.
But the grim resolve of health workers and the government has trumped such petty politics so far.
That is the only reason for India to look forward to a safer, sunnier 2021.
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