Have you noticed that India’s COVID-19 crisis hasn’t been making headlines recently? Does that mean that the crisis no longer exists?
By the end of February of 2021, India looked as if it was in prime position: low case counts, low deaths and news of vaccination progress. Just as other countries continued to hold restrictions as a precaution, India’s own Prime Minister Narendra Modi was campaigning mid-April for the upcoming election. Many believed that India would be spared a horrid second wave of COVID cases. But as the month of April passed and May winded down, the cases spiked up. Thousands upon thousands of cases daily, the nation kept shattering its own records for infection rates.
Just three days ago (July 2nd), India reached 400 000 deaths due to the pandemic. The nation has recorded over 30.6 million cases, with an overwhelming number of sources citing lack of access to and high costs of testing in rural India concealing a much higher number. But with the 1013% reduction in case counts comparing this week’s statistics to late May/early June statistics, a different crisis is gaining visibility: desperation.
As opposed to MEDC’s, India (an NIC, Newly Industrialized Country) has majority of its citizens living in rural areas. This means that, coupled with the infrastructure challenges the country already faces amplified by its growing population, barriers prevent access to key resources. During a pandemic, these resources begin to include PPE, disinfectants and, in the last few months, oxygen tanks, hospital beds, vaccines and the drug Remdesivir (only for certain and specific cases).
While scrolling on Twitter during the height of India’s crisis, it wasn’t uncommon for me to see a reply to a tweet exclaiming that they desperately needed an oxygen tank and/or hospital bed for a family member or friend that couldn’t breathe. There were too many people in need and not enough people who could promise or were promising help. When I did see people replying to the tweet directing the author to a certain hospital with a listed phone number, my faith in humanity soared. This, I felt, is what it means to come together in crisis. So when I heard of the string of scams that targeted those most in need of COVID treatment, I felt as if I received a huge blow to a full stomach.
First was the under-reporting of COVID deaths. As figures rose, officials evidently struggled to keep up with the daily numbers. On April 1st, the wife and daughter of a BBC reporter noticed that although two body bags passed by their eyes as they stood waiting for a COVID test in Gandhinagar, no deaths were reported in the region. After investigating further, reporters found that official daily death counts sometimes underreported the actual figure by 800%.
To add, Indian officials have uncovering many money-making schemes preying on COVID-related resources. Take, for example, the topic of vaccines. Over 2 500 people in late May/early June lined up outside a hospital, a supposed “vaccination site” offering COVID vaccines for a cash payment. Only days after being “vaccinated”, these citizens found out that they had instead been victims of an elaborate scheme and had been inoculated with salt water.
There was also the story of the fake Remdesivir injection, known as Covipri (sold under the false pretence being Remdesivir, a drug used to aid specific COVID patients), which began circulating on social media and was being quickly bought by family members/friends of severely infected COVID-19 patients to save their lives and give renewed hope. However, some social media goers coming across “Covipri” noticed its incorrect sentence structure, grammar and word choice and chose to report out of suspicion. Not to mention that the manufacturing address was listed in one state while the listed state name suggested otherwise.
So, we can see here the sickening pattern of people taking advantage of national scale strategy and mourning. Not only is this a pandemic where lives are being lost due to non-compliance with COVID restrictions, but also where some believe their need for instant money is far greater than the value of human life. Although the complexity of need, “invisible” poverty and desperation are far greater than morals can penetrate, a unified humanity exists only when all people are treated in a dignified manner and not as easy-to-lure cash cows.