In the past couple of days, what was suspected by many Indians is turning out to be true. Top scientists had repeatedly warned the political top brass about the threat posed by novel coronavirus variants, by lowering of guards and safety precautions, and by indiscriminate holding of large gatherings, whether for election campaign or for the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar. Yet, the policy response was lukewarm, even indifferent.
Coming as this did over the lack of earlier preparation by building infrastructure or ensuring supply chains or inducting health personnel, this has led to one of the biggest catastrophes India has faced. The deadly striking power of COVID-19 is revealed by the fact that on March 15, there were about 25,000 new cases being reported; these increased to about 54,000 new cases on March 30, they crossed the 100,000 (1 lakh) mark on April 4, the 200,000 (2 lakh) mark on April 14, the 300,000 (3 lakh) mark on April 21.
For the past two weeks every day, over 3 lakh cases are being recorded, and once, on April 30, the 4-lakh-mark was breached. Total deaths stand at an unconscionable 226,188, while total confirmed cases stood at over 2 crore (20 million) on May 4, 2021. Needless to say that most informed opinion holds that the caseload and death numbers are far higher than what has been officially recorded.
In response to a tidal wave of anger and anguish at the shambolic mess, the Union government and the ruling party, Bharatiya Janata Party, spokespersons appear to be oscillating between claiming that their vaccine drive has been successful and that the COVID-19 situation was unexpected. Even PM Modi said in his last address to the country that we had all thought that the novel coronavirus has been defeated. But this is a crafted narrative to hide the cruel truth that the powers that be were warned by scientists in India and abroad against complacency and business-as-usual approach.
December 2020: Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genetics Consortium (INSACOG), comprising 10 national laboratories capable of studying virus variants, was formed.
January 28, 2021: Modi says, “We transformed the fight against coronavirus into a people’s movement and today India is among the most successful countries in saving lives.”
February 2021: Indian variant B.1.617 detected. The variant displayed capability of higher transmission and escaping immune systems.
February 16, 2021: Modi says India’s fight against COVID-19 is inspiring the world….it is a “human-centric” approach.
March 7, 2021: Health Minister Harsh Vardhan says COVID-19 is already on its way out. Daily new COVID-19 cases: 18,599
Before March 10, 2021: INSACOG shared findings with National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) warning that infections could quickly increase in parts of the country. Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba also informed.
March 23, 2021: Punjab government said that NCDC and INSACOG had found that massive spike in cases in Punjab was caused by the UK variant B.1.1.7, first detected in India in January. Daily new cases: 27,262
March 24, 2021: Health Ministry issued a statement that ‘more problematic’ variants needed more testing and quarantine, which was going on.
April 7, 2021: Cases rising steeply in India. Daily new cases: 1,26,789
April14, 2021: Uttarakhand Chief Minister says, “Kumbh is at the bank of the River Ganga. Maa Ganga’s blessings are there in the flow. So, there should be no corona.” Daily new cases: 2,00,739
April 15, 2021: National Task Force for COVID-19, a group of 21 experts and government officials set up last April to provide scientific and technical guidance to the Health Ministry on the pandemic, and chaired by V.K. Paul, Modi’s top COVID-19 adviser, “unanimously agreed that the situation is serious and that we should not hesitate in imposing lockdowns,”
April 16, 2021: Amit Shah says no connection between election rallies and corona cases and that a “full-fledged” fight was on and that he was confident “we will declare a victory over this”. Daily new cases: 2,34,692
April 17, 2021: PM Modi applauds large crowds at election rally in West Bengal. In the election campaign, one estimate said 20 rallies were held by Modi, 50 events by Amit Shah and 40 by BJP president JP Nadda. Daily new cases: 2,61,500
April 19, 2021: NCDC director Sujeet Kumar Singh told a private online gathering that strict lockdown measures had been needed in early April. “The exact time, as per our thinking, was 15 days before,” he said. He said he had relayed the urgency of the matter to government officials on April 18. Daily new cases: 3,46,786
The contrast between what the scientists are saying and what is the government’s attitude, is sharply revealed in this sequence. Note how the daily new cases reported are rising even as its bizarre chronology plays out. Clearly, the Modi government has a lot to answer for the unimaginable suffering it has heaped on the country.