Covid-hit India needs the world's solidarity and support

An oxygen cylinder filling plant in Ahmedabad. India is running out of oxygen and new coronavirus infections are set to hit petrol and diesel sales Reuters
An oxygen cylinder filling plant in Ahmedabad. India is running out of oxygen and new coronavirus infections are set to hit petrol and diesel sales Reuters

The numbers are grim. In the 24 hours to Sunday morning, India reported almost 350,000 new coronavirus cases, setting a record for the most Covid-19 infections for a fourth consecutive day. More than 2,000 lives were lost during this time, bringing the total national death toll to 190,000. As of Sunday, nearly 17 million residents have reportedly contracted the virus.

Behind these cold statistics are individual human beings, as is often pointed out. And it is impossible not to be moved by any of their stories: of those who suffer, have suffered or died; of their near and dear ones who have tried to get them much-needed medical attention; of medical professionals and other frontline workers who have risked their own lives in order to save those of others.

The deaths of 13 Covid-19 patients in a hospital fire in Mumbai on Friday tragically encapsulates a larger story, of the ailing healthcare infrastructure in many Indian cities. Hospitals have found themselves unable to take in more patients, faced by a shortage of beds, equipment, manpower and even medical oxygen. The country’s pharmaceutical industry, which has been at the forefront of global vaccine production, is now struggling to deliver under the enormous pressure at home. And even as the various organs of government, civil society and the private sector urgently offer whatever help they can provide, warnings from frontline doctors that the surge is only the “tip of the iceberg” portend something more calamitous.

To some extent, what has happened in India could happen anywhere. Earlier in this pandemic, healthcare systems in countries like Italy and Brazil were completely overwhelmed. In the past year, it has become clear that a global effort and strict measures are needed to combat this pandemic and save lives.

Optimism in the course of progress fighting the pandemic always carries the danger of complacency. India escaped last year’s first wave largely unscathed, due in part to an effective lockdown. In absolute terms, the country is implementing the world’s largest Covid-19 inoculation drive, with 127 million doses already given. Thus some government officials, politicians and the public dropped their guard. Election campaigns, with large crowds, have been held in a handful of states. Religious festivals and various social gatherings, where people were seen without masks, became superspreaders. Health authorities, meanwhile, did not anticipate a need to stock up on medical oxygen and vaccines for a second wave that many experts have pointed out was all but inevitable.

Amid the chaos, the international community is rightly rallying around India. Saudi Arabia is sending liquid oxygen; the UAE and Singapore are in talks to export oxygen tankers; Germany has offered oxygen generation plants. Members of US Congress, meanwhile, are pressing their government to support India's proposal at the World Trade Organisation to grant a waiver from intellectual property rights protections to Covid-19 vaccines, therapeutics and related technologies.

Even India’s so-called adversaries are pitching in. Pakistan, with which it has fought three wars, is offering to send ambulances and volunteers. China, with which it is embroiled in a border dispute, is offering technological support.

Undoubtedly, there are lessons to be learnt from the Indian example and its current devastating surge. But now is the time for solidarity with India and its people.

Time and again, this pandemic has shown how inter-connected and inter-dependent the world really is. Despite the efforts by some nations to go it alone, no one country can solve all of its problems by itself.

Updated: April 26, 2021 03:22 PM

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