From helping the world, India turns to seek help from the world

Vaccine Maitri to Oxygen Maitri: Tsunami of second Covid wave turns tables on India

Politics

April 27, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

From helping the world, India turns to seek help from the world

India has so far despatched nearly 67 million doses of vaccines to countries all over the world

Till about two months ago, India was proudly, and rightly so, helping the world with vaccines to curb the spread of Covid-19. However, complacency, incompetence and carelessness have forced India to seek help, notably vaccines, drugs and especially oxygen, from whoever can provide.

On Saturday, a C-17 Hercules transport aircraft of the Indian Air Force took off from Changi Airport in Singapore and barely a couple of hours later it landed at the IAF base at Panagarh in West Bengal. The aircraft had just completed a special and urgent mission of transporting medical equipment, including four cryogenic oxygen cylinders. Temasek, Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund which is a big investor in Indian start-ups, has said it will send other urgently needed medical equipment, including oxygen concentrators as well as ventilators that India is running abysmally short of. Another plane landed in Mumbai on Sunday evening carrying some of this equipment.

On Sunday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel also expressed sympathy with India and promised urgent help, including 24 mobile oxygen generation plants and other emergency supplies. French President Emmanuel Macron said France would send oxygen manufacturing plants, while the European Commission also promised urgent aid.

Russia says it can send up to 400,000 doses per week of remdesivir, an anti-viral drug that is given to Covid-19 patients. The first shipment is likely to be despatched within days in view of the severe shortage of the drug all over the country. Russia is also being asked by India to send oxygen to India.

On Sunday, Saudi Arabia has shipped 80 metric tonnes of liquid oxygen from Dammam to Mundra in Gujarat. This is the first such shipment and more are expected shortly. The UAE has also promised to send oxygen concentrators to India.

The United States has also told its overseas airbases to send oxygen generators and concentrators as well as remdesivir vials to India within 48 hours.

But on the issue of raw materials needed by India to manufacture Covishield, a Covid-19 vaccine, initially, the administration of President Joe Biden refused to lift a ban on supply of these raw materials, citing its own needs. However, the United States agreed to send the urgently needed material to India following a long telephonic conversation between the national security advisors of the two countries.

Russia is also dispatching emergency doses of Sputnik-V vaccine due to a slowdown in production in India after the US put curbs on export of raw material for the vaccines. The exports of Sputnik will continue till India bridges the gap in its own production.

On Sunday, the United Kingdom also said it would over 600 pieces of vital medical equipment including ventilators and oxygen concentrators to India. The assistance package will be funded by the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office.

Meanwhile, China and Pakistan have also offered help to India. “China is ready to provide support and help according to India’s need, and is in communication with the Indian side on this,” the Chinese foreign ministry said.

Pakistan’s civil society has also called for help for India even as they continue to face oxygen shortage challenges. Edhi Foundation offered help in these trying times. Chairman Faisal Edhi wrote to PM Modi seeking permission to enter India. “We are very sorry to hear about the exceptionally heavy impact that the pandemic has had on your country, where a tremendous number of people are suffering immensely… we would like to extend our help in the form of a fleet of 50 ambulances along with our services to assist you in addressing, and further circumventing, the current health conditions,” he said in a letter. Edhi added that they only seek permission to enter the country and would arrange all necessary supplies required by their team themselves.

Pharmacy of world unable to meet own needs

 Despite being called the pharmacy of the world, India is running short of all drugs and medicines, forcing the nation to seek help from any and everyone around the world. Just till about a couple of months ago, India had sent planeloads of vaccines to over 80 nations all around the world in a very high-profile campaign, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s picture prominently displayed on most packages.

India has so far despatched nearly 67 million doses of vaccines to countries all over the world, with a mix of donations, commercial sales as well as under the Covax plan of the World Health Organisation.

In mid-September 2020, the number of new daily infections began to drop off from the highs of around 97,000 and by end of October, the levels fell to about 40,000. From this point, the Indian government, including Modi himself, began declaring victory over coronavirus. Since then, the entire government machinery has been taken its eyes off the ball and pretended that all was back to normal like in the pre-Covid-19 days. All the key emergency facilities set up for dealing with the pandemic were rolled back and even testing began to fall dramatically.

Before the year 2020 was over, Modi began jet-setting all around the country, addressing huge rallies in preparation for elections in states of West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and UT of Puducherry.

In none of these rallies did the PM follow his own ‘guidelines’ – that he has been asking Indians to follow since the outbreak of the pandemic last March — of wearing masks or keeping adequate distance. He also began to run large public campaigns heaping praise on himself and his government for having defeated coronavirus and the entire state machinery turned its attention away from the pandemic.

There was no preparation for a potential second wave even as most other countries had experienced not just a second but even a third wave. However, unfortunately, Modi and his team began believing their own half-truths and failed to ensure adequate stock of drugs like remdesivir or even something as basic as oxygen, let alone ramp up the speed of vaccination in the country to be able to protect a larger part of the population.

By late last year, there were adequate warnings of a tsunami building up. Scientists had identified that a powerful Indian strain had emerged and was much more mortal than the previously known strains. Also, a sharp inflection in the number of fresh cases was noted by February. Yet, Modi allowed a mammoth gathering of over 35 million devotees, from all over India, at Haridwar in Uttarakhand to go on for months and which is still proceeding.

He also held large election rallies in the states going to polls and ensured that the polls in West Bengal, that the BJP has admitted it desperately wants to win, were stretched over an unprecedented eight phases for over a month, addressing dozens of huge rallies.

So focused was Modi and his entire team as well as chief ministers of several states like Uttar Pradesh who spent a good number of days addressing rallies in all the election-bound areas. All the while, the signals were all loud and clear and bright red that India was in the midst of a tsunami.

By early April total daily cases were fast approaching 100,000, up from a mere 8000 in February, and the rise was incessant as well as widespread across the country. This led to demands for clubbing election dates to reduce the number of phases as well as curbing large rallies, Modi and his team dismissed them saying the losers were whimpering and they continued non-stop even as the number of daily cases moved from 81,000 on April 1 to 185,000 on April 13 and crossed 290,000 on April 20. By April 18, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had said he would no longer address election rallies due to the pandemic and days later Trinamool Congress leader and Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee also followed suit and invited Modi to cancel all his rallies as well. Instead, Modi boasted at another rally in West Bengal that he had never seen a larger election rally.

The Election Commission too remained a mute spectator and a pliant tool of the BJP even as the rallies breaking all Covid-19 norms and ECI’s own rules continued to be organised. So much so that today the Sanjib Banerjee Madras High Court said that the ECI officials should probably be tried for murder for overseeing the election.

“Your institution is singularly responsible for the second wave of Covid-19. Election Commission officers should be booked on murder charges probably. Were you on another planet when the election rallies were held?”, he asked the Election Commission.

While the High Court’s observations were absolutely on the mark, it is key to remember that for the past several years, the Election Commission has been acting as an extension of the executive, instead of an independent Constitutional body. And the final and sole responsibility for the calamitous and almost entirely preventable second wave lies solely and only with the Prime Minister who has led the nation from the road of recovery straight to an unimaginable catastrophe. This would be Modi’s legacy, not some large statues, temples or stadia. No amount of whitewashing is likely to ever delink this period of pain and misery from his name.

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