COVID-19 infections and deaths are rising at an alarming rate in India with no end in view of the crisis and an expert warns that in the coming weeks in the country about 1.4 billion people will be “ horrible ”.
The official count of coronavirus cases in India has exceeded 20 million, almost double in the last three months, while deaths have officially exceeded 220,000. On Tuesday, the health ministry reported 357,229 new cases in the last 24 hours and 3,449 deaths from COVID-19.
The country has witnessed scenes of people dying outside overflowing hospitals and funeral pyres that illuminate the night sky.
India’s top health official, Rajesh Bhushan, refused to speculate last month on why the authorities were not better prepared. But the cost is clear: people are dying because of a shortage of bottled oxygen and hospital beds or because they have not been able to take a COVID-19 test.
Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health in the United States, said he is concerned that Indian policymakers he has been in contact with believe things will improve in the coming days.
“I’ve been … trying to tell them,‘ If all goes well, things will be horrible for the next few weeks. And it could be a lot longer, ”he said.
Jha said the focus should be on “classic” public health measures: area-specific shutdowns, more testing, universal masking and avoiding large gatherings.
“That’s what will break the back of this wave,” he said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has faced criticism for his treatment of the pandemic as India’s underfunded healthcare system struggles to cope with the rise as hospitals run out of oxygen and beds.
The Delhi high court has said it will start punishing government officials if assigned oxygen supplies are not delivered to hospitals. “That’s enough,” he said.
Experts are also concerned that the prices charged for COVID-19 vaccines make it difficult to vaccinate the poor. On Monday, opposition parties urged the government to make free vaccines to all Indians.
India vaccinates about 2.1 million people daily, about 0.15 percent of its population.
“This will not end very soon,” said Dr Ravi Gupta, a virus expert at Cambridge University in England. “And really … the soul of the country is in some ways at risk.”