The second, and much more devastating wave of the Covid pandemic has brought India and its citizens down to their knees. With over three lakh new cases being detected every single day, we have become untouchables in countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, etc. And as I write this edit on April 23, even UAE and Singapore have imposed restrictions on Indians. At long last, even the judiciary came down heavily upon the administration; the Supreme Court describing the situation as “grim”, urged the government to come out with a national plan as distressed citizens were moving various High Courts for relief. The same morning, newspapers front-paged the picture of a desperate man seated under a tree, connected to an oxygen cylinder, outside a Delhi hospital, as he waited for a bed. Stories from the crematoriums were heart-breaking.
I just did not have enough courage to even open the spate of videos landing up in my inbox about desperate relatives crying for oxygen and some medical care outside hospitals. Chennai’s premier hospitals had 10–15 ambulances lined up outside their emergency rooms. Eminent virologist and Rotarian Dr Jacob John, who was at the forefront of the strategy to rid India of polio, was quoted thus by the Hindu Business Line: “We not only did not anticipate the second wave, but also neglected our genomic analysts. It is a pity that we have the wherewithal, the labs, the people and the expertise, but we just did not care, because the number of cases were coming down.” Other experts feared that things will get much worse before they get better.
We were once proud of our superior medical expertise and robust, sterling healthcare system manned by among the best in the world, and proudly promoting medical tourism. But this pandemic has stretched our health care system to its extreme limits. Did we ever imagine that a Delhi High Court judge would say: “Forget the common man on the street, even if I were to ask for a bed today, it would not be available right now”. Worse still, people are dying for want of oxygen. In this context Apollo Hospitals Joint MD Sangita Reddy’s tweet urging government to allow the tag of ‘ambulance’ to oxygen tankers, made abundant sense.
But at the end of the day, a major chunk of the blame for this state of affairs across the country is our laxity in taking precautions, maintaining social distancing, wearing masks, and attending huge religious and other gatherings, including political rallies, and that too without adequate protection. Forget the uneducated people, even the most educated people have behaved irresponsibly. But the silver lining in the cloud is the enthusiastic manner in which Rotary, led by past RI director Ashok Mahajan, is assisting the government in vaccinating people against Covid. And the way Rotarians are using the Rotary network to help as many people as they can to get speedy access to medical care in an emergency.
Yes, some of those who have taken both the vaccine shots have once again been infected, by a mutant or variant of the virus. But the good news is that after vaccination is completed, the mortality rate is greatly reduced, in case of infection. In all the mayhem that we have seen, one politician who has given sane advice is the Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal. Through media advertisements he has been appealing to Delhiites to behave responsibly and get vaccinated, cautioning them that this time around the virus has been viciously attacking people below 45, and so on. Of course, his attempt to live telecast a meeting of CMs chaired by PM Narendra Modi was inexcusable, and he got a deserved rap for it too from the PM.
Such wise and measured counsel is needed from more of our politicians instead of blame game. But we need to listen… and act.