“ The government has the best doctors and scientists at its disposal for advice. Yet the government didn‘t think anything like this would happen. They should have been better prepared, with oxygen, for example. This is a government error.”
Riksyacht driver Rajender Chauhan can’t reach it with his head. Why was the government not better prepared for the second wave of coronavirus infections in India? While images of countless patients gasping for breath go over the world, this is a question that concerns almost everyone in India. As a result, the popularity of Prime Minister Modi‘s government has reached a low point.
“ For the first time in seven years, the number of people who are dissatisfied with the government is higher than the number of people who are satisfied,” says Yashwant Deshmukh. He interrogates thousands of Indians in different local languages every day with his company C-Voter.
“ The second corona wave hit us like a storm,” said Prime Minister Modi on April 20 in a live speech on television. That day, 295,000 new infections were counted. But three days earlier, on a day when more than 260,000 infections were added, Modi praised the massive turnout at an election meeting in the state of West Bengal.
“ Modes enjoys such a high degree of trust throughout India that people probably thought corona had been overcome, and that they didn’t need to be careful anymore,” says Deshmukh. “Because of this, trust in him has now suffered a big dent.”
‘Feeling of exception’
Already in January, Modi spoke at the virtual Davos conference about “a story of hope” from India. At that time, the number of infections was very low. Nevertheless, the government should have taken into account a second wave, says epidemiologist Chandrakant Lahariya.
“ It was always known that there would be a second wave. But there was some kind of Indian sense of exceptional. That it is practically over here, although there is a second wave in other countries. The warnings were ignored and the preparation was not enough.”
Investigator Indira Chakravarthi says that warnings have been shared with the Ministry of Health, but nothing has been done with it. “The goal of the lockdown last year was to improve the healthcare infrastructure. But has the number of hospitals increased, or the number of primary clinics, or the number of doctors and nurses? And how could it have been, because the care budget has not been increased. The degree of suffering and death could have been less.”
She points out that in October last year a parliamentary committee had concluded that public hospitals needed more oxygen, and that steps needed to be taken to do something about that.
Also little has been done to expand the test capacity, says Chakravarthi. “That‘s why we have little information from the countryside. To what extent the virus is spreading there, we do not know.”
Daily infection rates are starting to decrease. On Monday there were about 330,000 cases. The highest number so far was on 6 May, with more than 414,000 infections. A day later, the highest mortality rate of 4187 people followed one day.
But experts agree that this does not reflect the actual numbers. “There are many reports about people suffering from flu and cough, and about long lines of people knocking on the door of clinics with covid symptoms,” Lahariya says.
On Monday, images of dozens of bodies floated in the Ganges. According to local care staff, villagers would no longer be able to afford the many cremations.
However, the government has not admitted that mistakes have been made. Last month, even critical messages were removed from Twitter, writes Human Rights Watch.
The Lancet medical magazine published a critical headline article on this last Saturday. “Modi’s actions to suppress criticism and open discussion during the crisis are unforgivable,” said the magazine. The magazine calls on the government to admit mistakes and “provide responsible and transparent leadership”.
Lahariya sees it as a positive sign that it is now acknowledged that there will probably be a third wave. “But it shouldn‘t be just promises this time,” he says. “When the first wave started, there was a lot of discussion about expanding India’s healthcare infrastructure. Many of those promises have not been followed. Only now by preparing the care infrastructure for that third wave, especially in rural areas, can we prove that we are serious.”
According to him, confidence in care has been harmed, and not just by what is happening at the moment. “The government has already promised four years ago to increase the budget for care from 1.2 to 2.5 percent of GDP, but there is hardlySomething happened. We need to increase spending quickly. There would also be more money going to primary care. All these promises have to be fulfilled.”