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Overwhelmed by a Covid catastrophe

Anindito Mukherjee/Getty Images

“It feels like the end times in New Delhi,” says Mandakini Gahlot in Foreign Affairs. As a second wave of Covid-19 crashes over the Indian capital and beyond, an “unbelievable tragedy” is unfolding. Queues of desperate patients and their families are overwhelming hospitals, which are running out of oxygen. There are lines of corpses outside crematoria, where the grills in the overworked ovens are melting. Yesterday, 3,645 Covid deaths and 379,257 cases were reported across the country, and experts fear as many as a million cases a day by the middle of May. It’s the nightmare scenario, “the disease rampant and devastation at an unimaginable scale”.

And because the government failed to prepare for this catastrophe, “the Indian people are being cheated at every step”, says Akash Goel in The Spectator. Patients unable to get into hospital are being forced to buy the medicine remdesivir on the black market for as much as £670 a vial. Oxygen cylinders are being sold half-full by “crook suppliers who take the money and disappear”. It’s terrible for everyone, but the pandemic “has rigged all aspects of the system against those with the least means”.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi stares into the headlights “like a transfixed animal, unable to move”, says Vijay Prashad in Asia Times. During the haphazard lockdown he imposed last year, he “urged people to light candles and bang pots, to make noise to scare away the virus”. Now there have been 18 million official cases and more than 208,000 confirmed dead in the pandemic. And this in a country that prides itself as “the world’s pharmacy”. The situation has been made even worse by Modi’s “diabolical” underfunding of public health – spending per head in 2018 was £198, “around the same as Sierra Leone”, with only 48,000 ventilators for a population of 1.36 billion.

What we’re living through here in India is “an outright crime against humanity”, and Modi’s government is to blame, says author Arundhati Roy in The Guardian. But it refuses to take responsibility – on the very day last week that 20 patients died in a Delhi hospital due to an oxygen shortage, the country’s solicitor general said: “Let’s try and not be a cry baby… no one in the country was left without oxygen.” The system hasn’t collapsed, it “barely existed”. As a result we have little idea of the extent of the tragedy – the death toll could be “up to 30 times higher than the official count”. We speak to those we love in tears, not knowing if we will ever see each other again or what horror lies ahead. “That is what breaks us.”

The big picture

The world must pay attention to India’s plight, says Gideon Rachman in the Financial Times. Western countries tend to “compete to see who can deal with the virus better” which will get us nowhere – “this is an interconnected global crisis”. Helping India is a humanitarian necessity and, if America wants India’s help in its rivalry with China, a “geopolitical necessity”. The lesson, for the UK in particular, is to guard against premature celebration of the virus’s defeat. India will “certainly not be the last country to witness a tragic resurgence of Covid-19”.