Russia, US, EU rush aid; burgeoning spike in numbers
-: R. Muthu Kumar :-
Did public, political apathy lead to disaster?
The SOS pleas of doctors, patients and their loved ones in dire need of hospital beds, oxygen and medication have flooded social media platforms in India. Researchers and experts are baffled by the seemingly sudden COVID-19 surge and they say more data are needed to understand how the coronavirus is spreading, managing the outbreak and predicting what is to come in the near future.
During the first wave of the pandemic in 2020, India reported over 90,000 daily new COVID-19 cases at its peak, But now it averages above 3.5 lakh cases per day and at least for seven days it has crossed the four-lakh mark.
It has to be noted that the daily case numbers gradually declined to nearly 10,000 in early February.
“We thought we may not see a big second wave but obviously we were wrong because we didn’t account for both the introductions and indigenous development of new variants,” said virologist Shahid Jameel.
India’s own B.1.617 variant first identified in October in Maharashtra is now present in up to 60 per cent of samples from many parts of India and it’s still unclear how contagious B.1.617 is and if it induces severe disease.
But just how much variants are driving the current surge remains poorly understood because scientists have sequenced viral genetic material from a mere one per cent of all COVID-19 cases recorded from January to March 2021
A lax attitude toward mask wearing and social distancing in the aftermath of the stringent and prolonged national lockdown from March to June 2020 may also be a big factor for the surge. A misplaced sense of triumph over COVID-19 encouraged gatherings at weddings, political rallies and religious ceremonies. “All those became super spreader events,” feel experts.
An array of mathematical models predict that India’s surge will peak sometime between early and mid-May. Daily case numbers could rise to anywhere between eight lakhs to 10 lakhs and single-day deaths may hit around 5,500 toward the ends of the month.
How do we face this challenging Himalayan disaster?
The UN is at the forefront of efforts to help India extricate itself from the present mounting crisis. The scale of the surge and the scale of the response have prompted the global leaders to extend a helping hand to India.
Around 15 countries including the US, Russia, France and the United Kingdom are rushing critical emergency use equipment to enable India counter the COVID-19’s deadly second wave.
A White House statement said, “The US is providing a range of emergency assistance, including oxygen-related supplies, vaccine materials, and therapeutics.” The EU, China, Turkey, Pakistan, Singapore, Iran and Saudi Arabia have also extended support.
Neighboring Bhutan too is sending medical oxygen. “Bhutan to supply liquid oxygen to Assam from a new plant being set up at the Motanga Industrial Estate, Samdrup Jongkhar,” the Indian Embassy in Bhutan said.
Political commentators in India have welcomed the global support. “It is a positive step … one of the problems that the world has seen in the pandemic is that there are few countries willing to help others,” Manoj Joshi, a political commentator and journalist, stated.
Russia has so far sent 22 tonnes of medical supplies to India to assist the country in its battle against the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. Two planes operated by the Russian EMERCOM landed in India this morning, carrying 20 oxygen production units, 75 ventilators, and 2,00,000 packs of medicines, according to a statement released by the Russian Ambassador to India Nikolay R. Kudashev.
He emphasised the importance of collective efforts and mutual respect between nations in times of crisis like the coronavirus pandemic. Kudashev added, “We sincerely empathise with the Indian people due to our traditionally warm and friendly relations.”
China is in contact with Indian officials and will assist India in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. Spokesman of Beijing’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Zhao Lijian said China “firmly” supported the Indian people in the ongoing fight against the deadly pandemic.
UAE extends support
The UAE has also offered to dedicate “all resources” to support India, which is engulfed in a fresh wave of Covid-19 infections. They has so for send six cryogenic oxygen storage containers from Dubai and has assured to bolster supply chains.
Less than a fortnight after President Joe Biden in his conversation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged his country’s steadfast support for the people of India, America has responded with an unprecedented financial assistance worth nearly dollar half a billion.
Biden spoke at length with Modi last month and conveyed solidarity with India in its fight against the viral disease. He assured the prime minister that the US and India will work closely together in the fight against COVID-19.
“Just as India sent assistance to the United States as our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, we are determined to help India in its time of need,” Biden had said in a tweet.
Reflecting an overwhelming support for a “natural ally”, the entire country not only the administration, but also the corporate sector which created a global task force, as well as Americans and Indian-Americans have opened their coffers for India.
This half a billion dollars includes $ 100 million pledged by the Biden administration, $ 70 million by pharma major Pfizer and 450,000 Remdesivir doses, the governmental purchase price of each of which in the US is $ 390.
Thousands of oxygen concentrators and plane loads of life saving drugs and health care equipment are flying off the United States for India almost every day.
Financial aid from US
Several companies like Boeing and Mastercard have announced financial assistance worth USD 10 million each, Google has pledged USD 18 million, which the Global Task Force that comprises CEOs of top American companies have already pledged USD 30 million worth of life saving equipment.
Describing it as a Berlin Life Moment, Mukesh Aghi of US India Strategic and Partnership Forum (USISPF), told PTI he expects the assistance to touch almost USD 1 billion by the end of the month. It is emotional for the diaspora, almost everyone has someone who has been touched by COVID-19, he said.
Nisha Desai Biswal, president of US India Business Council (USIBC) said, The outpouring of support from the United States over the past two weeks was a spontaneous mass mobilisation of support for the Indian people from across the America government, business community and diaspora community and the American people.
It is unprecedented, and it reflects both the deep bonds between our two countries and the gratitude that Americans feel for the role India played in supporting the United States when we were experiencing our COVID surge last year, she said.
‘Sustained effort needed’
However, given the speed and severity that have overwhelmed the capacity of hospitals and local authorities, more assistance will be needed and for a sustained period of timescale of the pandemic, Biswal said.
People of the country and the Diaspora too have come out in large numbers. Indian-American Vinod Khosla has committed $ 10 million, top corporate leader John T. Chambers has promised $ 1 million.
For the first time in its history, Sewa International has raised USD 15 million; American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI; $ 3.6 million), Indiaspora ($ 2.5) million and Jai Shetty has raised USD 4 million.
There has been overwhelming support and offers of assistance from the US Government, private sector, diaspora and the American public at large. In fact, in my interactions in recent days, the US interlocutors across the board ask me, tell us what more we can do for India’, India’s ambassador to the US Taranjit Singh Sandhu said.
They recall with fondness the help India gave. These are reflective of strong partnership and close people to people ties between our both nations. We deeply appreciate these gestures. We will continue to engage with the US in our collective fight against the pandemic, he said.
Among other major financial contributions announced include Procter and Gamble ($ 6.7 million); Merck ($ 5 million), Walmart ($ 2 million), Salesforce ($ 2.4 million), and Caterpillar ($D 3.4 million). Companies like Deloitte have announced to 12,000 oxygen concentrators to India. While Microsoft is partnering with the US government in providing aid and oxygen, FedEx and UPS have taken up the mantle of taking care of the transportation of life saving health care equipment like oxygen cylinders, ventilators and oxygen concentrators to India.