“Entire families” devastated by Covid carnage in rural India
(Bloomberg) – After devastating the largest cities in India, the latest wave of Covid-19 is now ravaging rural areas of the second most populous country in the world. And most villages have no way of fighting the virus.
In Basi, about an hour and a half from the capital New Delhi, about three quarters of the village’s 5,400 residents are sick and more than 30 have died in the past three weeks. There are no health facilities, no doctors and no oxygen tanks. And unlike the urban Indian population knowing about social media, residents cannot appeal on Twitter to an army of strangers ready to help.
“Most of the deaths in the village were caused by the lack of available oxygen,” said Sanjeev Kumar, the newly elected leader of the farming community. “The sick are rushed to the district headquarters and these extremely ill patients have to travel around four hours,” he said, adding that many do not arrive on time.
It is a scenario that is playing out all over India. In interviews with representatives from more than 18 towns and villages in different parts of the country, officials described the scale of the carnage – from wiped out families with swollen bodies floating on the Ganges to farmland left without maintenance due to ‘a lack of workers.
Many people said the scale of the crisis is far greater than official figures show, with villagers afraid to leave their homes even if they have a fever and local authorities fail to properly record deaths from the virus. India reported a record 4,329 deaths on Tuesday as the total number of reported cases exceeded 25 million, according to figures from the Ministry of Health.
Anger is growing both within Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration and local authorities for failing to strengthen medical infrastructure following a wave of the virus last year, including ensuring sufficient supplies oxygen and vaccines. The ruling Bharatiya Janata party last month lost local elections in Basi and other parts of Uttar Pradesh – India’s most populous state – just as the country started to register nearly 400,000 new cases per day.
Sentiment on the ground suggests broader issues for Modi and his fellow BJP leader Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh who has been mentioned as a possible successor to the prime minister. The state is holding elections next year.
“We had full support for Modi and Yogi, but now, whatever happens, we will vote against BJP,” said Sahab Singh, 72, in central Basi, which was virtually empty. He noted that people were too afraid to leave their homes.
In the recent elections to appoint village chiefs, many election officials were infected, including Kumarsain Nain, 59, who caught the virus with his 31-year-old son. Unable to walk and breathless, Nain’s family rushed him to a nearby hospital last month after being unable to find an ambulance with oxygen support, another son, Praveen Kumar, said.
“After we got to the hospital, the doctors said he died, but instead of registering Covid-19 as the cause of death, they put in cardiac arrest,” Kumar said. “The doctor told us that it was not necessary to check if my father tested positive for Covid-19 since he was already dead. “
Her brother died shortly after at another clinic about 30 minutes away, along with six other patients who were also on oxygen therapy. “I suspect the hospital ran out of oxygen, which resulted in deaths,” Kumar said. “Holding the election when the government knew the cases were increasing and the infection was spreading is a criminal act. “
Representatives from the prime minister’s office and the health ministry did not respond to the request for comment. Modi addressed the issue on May 14 following a meeting with several chief ministers. “I want to warn you about the corona. The infection is spreading rapidly in the villages, ”said the Prime Minister. “Efforts are being made to deal with this. “
Baijayant “Jay” Panda, a senior official at Modi’s BJP, told Bloomberg Television on Monday that the latest wave of the virus had been a “humiliating experience,” but pointed to a significant roll-out of vaccination and the delivery of vaccines to more from 80 countries around the world outreach effort.
He defended Modi’s response, saying election officials made the decision to conduct polls and states were responsible for building oxygen plants that received federal funding.
“It wasn’t just the Prime Minister who thought we had overcome the crown’s greatest ravages – the consensus in India in early January was that we had,” Panda said. “Many epidemiologists critical today officially said in October that the worst is over and that we shouldn’t have so many restrictions.”
According to Nikita Sud, associate professor of international development at the University of Oxford and author of a book, Covid-19 is making Modi’s problems worse, as well as a severe economic downturn, rising unemployment and farmer protests against a law perceived as favoring large companies. on Hindu nationalism.
“It is too simplistic to say that the mismanagement of Covid sounds the reversal of the wind for the Modi regime,” said Sud. “However, the regime appears to be out of its depth for the first time since coming to power in 2014.
As Delhi’s rulers struggle to contain the crisis, gruesome scenes are unfolding across India. Last week in the eastern state of Bihar, residents woke up to find as many as 70 swollen bodies floating in the Ganges. With crematoriums overflowing as the death toll rose, they feared these bodies were Covid victims whose families could not rest them properly. More corpses have since been reported along the river.
The federal and state governments “have let us all down,” said Rajesh Sharma, owner of a travel agency in the Hindu pilgrimage town of Ujjain in central Madhya Pradesh.
“India has had a full year to prepare, but other than sending vaccines out of the country for personal credit and fame, nothing has been done,” he said. “There are no hospital beds, no drugs. People have been left behind. In and around Ujjain, entire families have died in the past two weeks. “
In Punjab, a northern state bordering Pakistan, local authorities are asking volunteers from among the million accredited social health activists in India to visit every house to urge people to get vaccinated and see if anyone has. fever. While the group is well known for working under difficult conditions to provide vaccines to children and basic first aid in villages, the scale of the current crisis is unprecedented, said Balbir, one of the workers.
“A lot of people are so scared that they won’t even tell anyone about their fever,” she said, asking to be identified only by her first name for fear of a backlash from local authorities in Ludhiana district , where infections spread quickly. “Despite such an increase, they still haven’t given us adequate protection: no masks, no gloves, nothing. “
Uttarakhand has also been hit hard. The Himalayan foothills state has seen virus cases jump nearly 20 times after welcoming more than nine million people for the Hindu religious holiday known as Kumbh Mela between March 31 and April 24.
“There is not a house in Rishikesh where people are not sick – Haridwar is in a similar condition as well,” said Navin Mohan, who helps organize visits to holy cities on the banks of the Ganges.
“The pandemic is now really out of control,” Mohan said. “Thousands of people are dying and will die in the coming weeks. The government is rigging the numbers, but the reality is visible to everyone. “