Letter from India — the second COVID-19 waveSunday, May 16, 2021
ON home leave to India in April 2021 to attend to my parents, convalescing from COVID-19 infection, I witnessed the rising second wave of the coronavirus pandemic first-hand. From a little more than 100,000 infections per day, the count quadrupled to 400,000 per day in two weeks.
Learning from the examples of the USA, UK, Italy and Brazil, the Indian authorities had started planning for combating a possible second wave as early as January 2021. But the Indian second wave proved much more infectious and fatal than other countries, thus overwhelming the preparations. Worse still, the vulnerability to the second wave was more indiscriminate as far as age group is concerned, leading to a spurt in hospitalisations of the young and old alike. As a result, the metropolitan cities of Mumbai and Delhi witnessed the shortage of hospital beds, ICU facilities, oxygen supplies and medications like Remdicivir.
The sudden surge in COVID-19 cases has been attributed to the new mutations in the virus, some indigenous, which have proven to be more infectious and deadly than the previous versions. Some of these mutants have led to reinfections, bypassing the body immunity response, blood coagulation leading to a sudden drop in oxygen levels, rapid fibrosis of the lungs, and heart attacks.
The response to the second wave has been swift. Industrial oxygen is getting diverted for medical use on a war footing. At least 500 new oxygen production plants are being installed, one for each district. Thousands of new COVID-19 beds have been added to existing hospitals while many new COVID-19 facilities have come up from scratch, some with the assistance of the military. Final-year medical students have also been roped into this fight against the virus. Multiple civil society organisations and individuals are also helping the patients by providing meals and medicines, arranging for online doctor consultations, and donating plasma for treatment.
Since the coronavirus pandemic began in 2020, India had provided essential medicines to more than 100 countries to fight the virus. Recently, India had also sent more than 60 million Made in India COVID-19 vaccines to more than 80 countries of the world. Today, when India is in distress, the world has responded in equal measure by providing oxygen makeshift generation plants, concentrators, cylinders, and essential medicines. In a welcome move, the US Government has announced that it supports waiving patent protections for COVID-19 vaccines, which could make shots available for a larger share of the global population.
Jamaica's Foreign Affairs Minister Senator Kamina Johnson Smith has also written to India's external affairs minister, expressing solidarity in the fight against COVID-19. Also, the multitude of messages from Jamaicans on Facebook, Twitter and other social media websites, expressing support for their Indian brothers and sisters and praying for their well-being, has given positivity in these testing times.
The Indian strategy of neutralising the second wave rests on the following three pillars:
The first pillar is ensuring adequate medical facilities to boost recovery and minimise mortality. After the initial shortage, the Government has been able to cover this to a large extent. The second is imposing region-specific partial or complete lockdowns to 'break the chain' while encouraging COVID-19-appropriate behaviour from the people. It has already started showing results in places like Delhi that have reported lesser cases with the imposition of lockdowns. The third is speeding up the COVID-19 vaccination drive. India has already vaccinated more than 160 million with at least one dose of the vaccine. With vaccination having started for everyone above the age of 18 from 1st May 2021, the numbers are increasing at a fast clip. Apart from the approved COVISHIELD and COVAXIN, India has also approved the Sputnik V vaccine for emergency use; other vaccines are also expected to get approval soon, pending clinical trials in India.
The use of Ayurvedic treatments and yoga is also helping Indians in reducing the severity and the post-recovery complications from the virus. Especially helpful are the herbal concoctions and breathing exercises for strengthening the respiratory tract, since lungs are the worst affected.
Jamaica has done well in reducing the daily infections from over 700 to less than 200 in a matter of days. But it can least afford to let its guard down. With scientists pointing to a possible third COVID global wave, let us learn from the Indian experience and strengthen our defences further against the virus.
Prathit Misra is an Indian diplomat working as second secretary at the High Commission of India, Kingston. Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
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