Some countries like Israel are already receiving a piece of good news amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. For one, more than half of their population is already fully vaccinated. For that reason, the country no longer requires their citizens to wear masks in an outdoor setting. They are currently leading when it comes to pandemic response but there are countries like India whose citizens are currently experiencing an agonizing surge of COVID-19 infections. This essay will talk about the current situation in India in light of the pandemic.
COVID-19 is a highly infectious disease that originated from China and managed to spread all over the world in just a matter of months. As of writing, there are already almost 150 million people that have been infected with the virus on a global scale and more than three million have already died due to it. It has been 16 months since the virus has been discovered and started to spread throughout the world.
After more than a year, a few countries are lucky enough not to experience a second surge or a severely devastating surge. With the COVID-19 vaccine rollout already underway, the future of a COVID-19-free world is in sight – for some countries, that is. But in the world’s largest COVID-19 vaccines manufacturer, India is facing a threat not just to their healthcare system, but the stability of their nation and the production of more vaccines.
As of writing, India is experiencing their second surge of COVID-19 cases and for eight consecutive days, is recording more than 300,000 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 each day. The number is consistently rising, and is deeply troubling as they have already surpassed the United States’ record of having more than 297 million recorded number of confirmed cases in a single day a little over a week ago.
There are already more than 18 million confirmed cases in total in the country of almost 1.4 billion people. Since the surge, there are already over 200,000 recorded deaths. Because of this incredible surge in numbers, India has become the global epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a very surprising turn of events because only a couple months ago, India was one of the countries who are showing commendable progress on COVID-19 recovery.
Researchers have observed two main causes of the sudden surge of COVID-19 cases – which all points back to current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The country’s leader is currently being slammed both by its citizens and people from other countries because not only did he allow the annual Hindu religious festival to push through early in the month of April, but he also allowed political rallies to be held.
The annual Hindu religious festival held in Ganges river – which involves taking a dip in the water - attracter about 150 million pilgrims to one area. Needless to say, it got overly crowded. People were not wearing masks, not practicing social distancing, and really just ignoring all health safety protocols. The same goes for the political rallies that have been held for the sake of campaigning for the state elections.
Both violated the social distancing and mask-wearing protocols recommended by the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention. It became the cause of a super-spreader event which is the cause of the wall-like surge in the number of cases in their country. Every after event, there is a noticeable increase in the recorded number of cases they are experiencing each day.
Following the event, the Prime Minister addressed the citizens and encouraged all of them to get vaccinated as soon as possible. He even contacted the manufacturers in their country and implored them to prioritize their compatriots in giving out doses for vaccination. The manufacturer of the COVID-19 vaccine Covishield responded to this by lowering the prices of the vaccines they were planning to sell to Indians.
Almost 150 million people out of the almost 1.4 billion total population have been vaccinated in India which equates to about 11 out of 100 people. The second wave of the infections of COVID-19 virus posed a dire healthcare system emergency. Hospitals have run out of ICU beds, medical oxygen supply, COVID-19 test kits, treatments, personal protective equipment, and there are not enough healthcare workers to attend to each patient.
Because of the situation, citizens are pushed to store their own oxygen tanks at home, and have emptied the supplies of several suppliers of oxygen tanks. Some are even experiencing going from hospital to hospital for 24 hours in an effort to find a hospital that is capable of taking in a sick man. COVID-19 patients are literally gasping for air and dying outside hospitals unable to receive the healthcare they need.
The current situation in India makes it difficult to determine the exact number of the infected people and the death rate. There are probably infected people who have not been recorded in the official count because they have not been tested nor have gone to a hospital. It is highly likely that the official data that is being released in official reports barely reflects the true infection and death rate caused by the sudden surge in the past couple weeks.
Furthermore, people are dying at home and in the streets desperately searching for a hospital that will take them in. These deaths are likely unregistered and are not included in the official count. Crematoriums can barely keep up with the number of dead they have to attend to each day and have to set up funeral pyres in open spaces like parking lots.
The actual number of deaths caused by COVID in India may go uncounted and unnoticed until the day that the remaining living people are counted. Their medical equipment and facilities are running out and they are scrambling to get medical assistance. The world bears witness to the collapse of India’s healthcare system and are sympathizing and are doing what they can to help.
On the Prime Minister’s call for help to the United States, US President Joe Biden promised that they will ease restrictions on the shipment of needed materials or equipment and such. They will even be sending raw materials that are needed to produce more vaccines, medical equipment like COVID-19 test kits, ventilators, and personal protective equipment. This is done in recognition of the help India sent to the United States in 2020 when they were the ones struggling due to the pandemic. Pakistan and a few other countries from Europe are also sending their assistance.
What does double mutation mean?
But, the current state of affairs of India’s obviously underfunded healthcare system is just one of their worries. The country is also struggling with a newly discovered variant of COVID-19. One of them is dubbed as the “double mutant” strain which is more transmissible and can also evade the immune system more effectively which will render vaccines useless.
The particular variant being studied has the code B1617. The mutations that made this variant scarier than the others are known as the E484Q and L452R mutations. It is currently being studied because it is possible that the effectivity of the COVID-19 vaccines will substantially decrease against it. Scientists are currently assessing the amount of immunity that is compromised or even lost due to the mutation.
Both mutations are found in the spike proteins of the virus which means it can definitely latch on the receptors found in human’s cells and make it easier to penetrate the cells and infect the host. Additionally, the spike proteins contain a few changes which enables the virus to gain entry to a human's cell and multiply faster than ever.
Due to these mutations in the spike protein, vaccines may be useless against it since it would not be recognized because of its slightly different form. Since it is more compatible with human cells, it is possible that a vaccinated person’s antibodies will not be able to recognize it as a threat. This variant can be responsible for an even faster transmission and higher number of death rates if not contained as soon as possible.
Although, the Indian government is yet to recognize the possibility of these variants being the ones responsible for the infection and death rate in the country. New variants are expected to appear in areas where there are high transmission rates which results in continued viral replications. Researchers point to it as the most likely reason as to why the number of infected people suddenly spiked in the past two weeks.
What can India do given its current position on the battle against COVID-19?
No matter how dire the situation is in India, there is still hope. The government can still impose stricter lockdown restrictions, make sure that people wear masks and follow social distancing protocols, and get themselves fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Even with this seemingly hard-to-deal-with variant, scientists and other medical practitioners believe that getting vaccinated can protect a person from the virus.
To avoid another surge like this from happening in the future, the government should really avoid easing up on social distancing and mask-wearing protocols. With most of the world still prone to the virus, no one should be too comfortable in intermingling with other people because no one really knows if another person is a carrier of the virus or is currently infected. During this time, it really is better to be safe than sorry.
The situation in India is truly troubling. Some countries are indeed lucky to have a significantly fewer population lest they risk having the same thing happen to them due to tightly-knit communities. Having a lower number of population also means that a country may be able to contain the virus and vaccinate all the citizens in a shorter period of time. They may still be at a risk of experiencing a spike of confirmed cases but the intensity can be limited.
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By VOA News, & Gul, B. A. (2021, April 26). India Posts Fifth Consecutive Day of 300,000-Plus New COVID-19 Infections as World Sends Badly Needed Aid. Voice of America. https://www.voanews.com/covid-19-pandemic/india-posts-fifth-consecutive-day-300000-plus-new-covid-19-infections-world-sends
Shriyan, P., & Babu, G. R. (2021, April 6). What’s the new coronavirus variant in India and how should it change their COVID response? The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/whats-the-new-coronavirus-variant-in-india-and-how-should-it-change-their-covid-response-157957