India was supposed to have beaten the coronavirus thanks to a rigorous regime of lockdowns last year. Now, a second wave of cases has the country recording over 380,000 new cases a day, a staggering record that surpassed the United States during the worst of COVID-19.
The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is on edge, hospitals are filled past capacity and the State Department is telling U.S. citizens to leave the country of 1.3 billion people now.
On Wednesday, the State Department issued a health alert saying Americans “wishing to depart should use available commercial options now” and that “[d]aily direct flights to the US and flights via Paris and Frankfurt are available.”
“Access to all types of medical care is becoming severely limited in India due to the surge in Covid-19 cases,” the alert read.
#India: Access to medical care is severely limited due to COVID-19 cases. U.S. citizens wishing to depart should use available commercial options now. Daily direct flights to the US and flights via Paris and Frankfurt are available. https://t.co/p5a3v5ws9y pic.twitter.com/LqHhCiZVEg
— Travel – State Dept (@TravelGov) April 28, 2021
“Hospitals are reporting shortages of supplies, oxygen, and beds for both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 related patients,” the State Department alert read.
“U.S. citizens are reporting being denied admittance to hospitals in some cities due to a lack of space. Some states have enacted curfews and other restrictions that limit movement and the operation of non-essential businesses.”
The State Department issued a Level 4 Travel Advisory for India, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a Level 4 Health Notice. In both cases, there is no Level 5.
“Because of the current situation in India even fully vaccinated travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants and should avoid all travel to India,” the CDC’s website reads.
As Bloomberg noted in a Wednesday report, the country has 18.4 million confirmed instances of COVID, the fastest-growing number in the world.
“Mass funeral pyres, lines of ambulances outside overcrowded hospitals and desperate pleas on social media for oxygen underscore how unprepared India’s federal and state governments are to tackle the latest outbreak,” the report said.
What’s gone so wrong? Much of the blame has been flung at the feet of Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party for believing the crisis was behind them when cases from the first wave had slowed dramatically, with calls for Modi’s resignation from the Indian media.
“By the beginning of this year, the number of active covid-positive cases had dwindled to a trickle,” said Baijayant Panda, national vice president for the BJP, according to The Washington Post. “The suddenness and scale of the present surge has taken everyone by surprise.”
Modi acknowledged the country was facing “a colossal battle against corona” in a radio address this week.
“After successfully confronting the first wave of corona, the country was full of enthusiasm, full of self-confidence, but this storm has shaken the country,” he said.
And that’s the problem: The country’s leadership apparently thought it was nigh-invulnerable.
Some epidemiologists said India had reached herd immunity, and politicians were counting on vaccinations to come to the rescue, neglecting to beef up their already dodgy health care infrastructure.
However, the government also didn’t seem to have developed a particularly solid plan for vaccinations; according to PBS, it has been stretched for raw materials to make the vaccines, with only 2 million doses being manufactured per day. The nation requires 6 million to 7 million to be on track to confront the virus.
Indian officials have laid some of the blame at the feet of President Joe Biden, too. When Biden invoked the Defense Production Act to boost the production of vaccines at home, the unintentional effect was to stop exports of materials India needed to make the vaccines, including vials and stoppers.
That led to this tweet on April 16 from Adar Poonawalla, head of the Serum Institute of India:
Respected @POTUS, if we are to truly unite in beating this virus, on behalf of the vaccine industry outside the U.S., I humbly request you to lift the embargo of raw material exports out of the U.S. so that vaccine production can ramp up. Your administration has the details. 🙏🙏
— Adar Poonawalla (@adarpoonawalla) April 16, 2021
Biden responded by promising to send India supplies, PBS reported.
The Biden administration also said it would ship more than 60 million doses of the vaccine abroad amid international pressure — a decision that divided administration officials, according to Politico, due to recent disruptions in the vaccine supply chain.
Meanwhile, the caseload gets worse.
There have been more than 314,000 new cases a day in India since April 22, and that’s expected to continue until mid-May. The number climbed to 386,452 on Friday, according to The Associated Press, with 3,498 deaths. However, health experts say the country has undercounted deaths and the data has been spotty.
It’s worth noting, of course, that when Biden took over in January, he publicly complained there was no vaccine plan left from the Trump administration. And yet, thanks to Operation Warp Speed and the inoculation infrastructure laid by the previous White House tenant, vaccination in the United States has continued apace and no massive new wave has occurred.
If you want to look at the lack of a plan, look at India.
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