The epidemic in the world’s second most populous nation (with 1.3 billion residents) is difficult to fathom:
- According to VOA News on April 26, India posted 2,812 COVID-related deaths the previous day, the most in a procession of expanding daily fatalities since the middle of the month. The total India death toll is now at least 350,000.
- Crematories in India have been working around-the-clock to burn the corpses of victims in the deadly plague.
- This second wave of COVID fatalities in the world’s most populous democracy has been attributed to the spread of more contagious variants of the virus.
- This has occurred after New Delhi eased restrictions on large crowds when the outbreak appeared to be under control earlier in 2021.
Foresight essential in curbing COVID-19 epidemics
The Economist reported April 24th that less than 1.3 percent of Indians had been vaccinated against the virus, using a combination of Astra-Zeneca-Oxford and Sputnik-5 vaccines.
After an initial outbreak last year, India’s caseload diminished and the government encouraged massive crowds at traditional annual pilgrimages in early 2021, exposing hundreds of millions. Until early April, COVID 19 or its variants were largely unknown in India.
A warning from the World Health Organization
WHO Director Tedros Ghebreyesus noted in a briefing in Geneva April 26 that India reported more than 350,000 new cases of coronavirus infections for the fifth consecutive day. The situation, he said, “is beyond heartbreaking.”
“WHO is doing everything we can”, Mr. Ghebreyesus added, “providing critical equipment and supplies, including thousands of oxygen concentrators, mobile hospitals and laboratory supplies.”
Early U.S. private sector reaction
The U.S. announced it will ship up to 60,000,000 doses of the Astra-Zeneca coronavirus vaccine abroad as severe crises, such as India’s, require urgent action. At least 40 U.S. corporate CEOs met independently over the last weekend in April to create what they call “a global task force” to help India specifically.
The business coalition consists of two principal NGOs focusing on India. They are the U.S.-India Business Council of the Chamber of Commerce and the U.S.-India Strategic and Partnership Forum.
The task force’s first priority is to get 20,000 oxygen concentrators to India, and the first thousand of these was expected to arrive in India by midweek, or April 28. Another thousand should be delivered in early May.
Update on U.S. government’s initial reactions
The Washington Post reports that President Biden spoke April 26 with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, “pledging support as India faces what is now arguably the world’s worst coronavirus outbreak.” A U.S. task force of more than 2,000 specialists is being organized to hasten to India to help combat the disease.
Ashish K. Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, sums up the urgency in a Washington Post column this week:
“India is in a crisis. The United States has strategic interests in helping India weather the pandemic; it is also the right thing to do. Only the United States has the capacity, resources and technical know-how to bend the curve of India’s second wave of the disease.
“The faster we assist New Delhi, the more lives will be saved. One democracy coming to the aid of another in this time of crisis is what the world needs now. It will be good for India. It will be good for the United States. And it will make the world a safer place.”
As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 275 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More