India’s Crisis Means the Pandemic Is Far From Over
Relatives of Covid-19 fatalities wear PPE at a crematorium in New Delhi India, on April 19, 2021. (Photographer: T. Narayan/Bloomberg)

India’s Crisis Means the Pandemic Is Far From Over

Covid-19 is going to kill more people in 2021 than it did last year. To see why, look at India, where daily case numbers spiked to 314,835 Thursday, outstripping levels the U.S. experienced at the peak of its epidemic. 

Signs that the country is cracking under the strain are legion — from shortages of vaccine stocks, hospital beds, oxygen supplies and even hearses, to crematoria breaking down under the sheer numbers of bodies they have to deal with. Social media has rung with pleas from desperate people unable to get help from a health system running past its limits. One journalist in Lucknow live-tweeted his own declining condition before dying.

After apparent success in squashing the outbreak last year, the country has been caught out by its rapid resurgence. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was slow to cancel planned rallies for state elections in West Bengal, while the Kumbh Mela religious festival has only belatedly been wound back after attracting millions to bathe on the banks of the Ganges.

Here’s what Bloomberg Opinion columnists have been saying about the outbreak:

Modi Owns the Covid-19 Tragedy Unfolding in India: As in so many of the pandemic’s worst-hit countries, this tragedy was avoidable — and is largely the fault of a boastful and incompetent government. Yet, judging by the fate of other bungling far-right politicians such as Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and the U.K.’s Boris Johnson, Modi may well suffer few political consequences for his devastating missteps. Even an illusionist as masterful as Modi may find it difficult to spin extensive death and bereavement among India’s middle classes to his advantage. But Johnson’s example suggests not enough voters are ready to diagnose and punish outrageous incompetence in their leaders. The spell cast by the demagogues of our times is profound. — Pankaj Mishra

How a Covid Spike Sucked the Oxygen Out of India: Nationalistic pride may swell chests, but to fill lungs you need air. Yet hundreds of millions of people risk not having access to the basic, life-saving element of medical oxygen thanks to apathy, bureaucracy and disorganization. Warning signs of the current oxygen crisis have been around for years. For many among my family, friends and acquaintances, the risk of running out of breath is real. From rerouting industrial oxygen to running a special train for transporting it across the country, everything being done now should have been planned earlier. — Andy Mukherjee

The Profit Motive Can’t Defeat India’s Pandemic: A country of 1.4 billion people needs a system to support their most basic need: survival. But its public health infrastructure is perpetually on the brink. Spending in this sector is dismally low, at close to 1% of gross domestic product. The country ranks 179th out 189 when it comes to prioritization of healthcare in the government budget. On a per-capita basis, it spends as much as donor-dependent nations like Sierra Leone. The idea that a private health system focused on profit could adequately attend to almost 18% of the world is ludicrous. — Anjani Trivedi

The Real Vaccine Crisis Isn’t About Johnson & Johnson: While there’s sufficient medicine on order to fully immunize the population of high-income nations nearly two times over, coverage falls to just 12% in lower middle-income ones like India. The aspiration of a global trading system that would balance intellectual property protection with the health needs of all humanity has fallen short, and patent protections need to be waived for essential drugs while this pandemic rages. The promise of the early 2000s has given way to a world in which life-saving treatments are again out of reach for the world’s poorest. — David Fickling

Is the Pharmacy of the World Up to the Task?: India has managed to scale its medical manufacturing efforts to global proportions and earn the title of pharmacy of the world. When the pandemic ends, it will be with the tremendous assistance of the country’s pharmaceutical industry. But the generosity of the diplomacy has earned the Modi government domestic ire. India is well short of producing the doses needed to hit his target of fully vaccinating 300 million individuals by July. The vaccine stock is distributed to all the states, and just-in-time replenishment has led to doses running out in some cities, generating criticism of inequitable availability. — Aashish Chandorkar

India’s New Covid-19 Crisis Has a Familiar Culprit: As is typical in India, official arrogance, hyper-nationalism, populism and an ample dose of bureaucratic incompetence have combined to create a crisis. The government seems to expect Indian manufacturers to produce vaccines on spec, jump through various regulatory hoops and then break all their other remunerative contracts in order to give the final product solely to the Indian state — at grossly insufficient prices. Such attitudes are at the root of the country’s growth and investment crisis. Now the rest of the world will have to suffer the consequences. — Mihir Sharma

Biden Needs to Come to India’s Aid Now: The Biden administration should immediately share doses from its own supply of Oxford-AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. The move wouldn’t slow down the current U.S. vaccination drive, which is proceeding without either. India’s Serum Institute is already producing AstraZeneca doses and another Indian company, Biological E Ltd., is making the J&J vaccine. India could thus refill U.S. coffers, if needed, once the current crisis is under control. The Biden administration has recognized the need to vaccinate the world. But its initiatives will take time to bear fruit — and depend crucially on Indian vaccine-makers. If the U.S. wants those efforts to succeed, it needs to come to India’s aid now. — Shruti Rajagopalan

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

David Fickling is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering commodities, as well as industrial and consumer companies. He has been a reporter for Bloomberg News, Dow Jones, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times and the Guardian.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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