Up to a few weeks ago, India was a beacon in the fight against COVID-19. Its numbers were declining and its generous vaccine diplomacy benefitted over 90 countries, including us in T&T.
Today, sadly, the world’s second-most populous country is where COVID-19 is spreading the fastest, presenting us with a lesson that can’t be ignored.
The country was experiencing big gains. With a population of 1.36 billion, in mid-September, India had been seeing around 93,000 new cases per day. However, by mid-February, this dropped significantly to around 11,000 and the seven-day rolling average of daily deaths slid below 100. So optimistic were the authorities, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan announced in early March that India was at its “endgame.”
But, just a few weeks later, hospitals are today overwhelmed, the healthcare system is crumbling and the country has seen a record 332,000 new cases in just one day, with 2,767 people dying from the virus on Saturday. New strains have emerged, including a double mutant strain, mortuaries are overflowing and there are two patients in beds in some hospitals.
India has now put a hold on all exports of the AstraZeneca vaccine as doses are desperately needed there. It is a serious warning to the entire world of the grim result of letting one’s guard down.
India’s Public Health Foundation president K Srinath Reddy, attributed the rapid demise to what he called “a feeling of triumphalism,” adding the few voices of caution were not heeded to.
At the end of February, key elections were announced in five states where 186 million were eligible to vote and there were massive crowds at campaigns with little social distancing. By mid-March, 130,000 fans watched two cricket games between India and England, and millions gathered for the festivals of Kumbh Mela and Holi in March and April.
In short, the drop in cases coupled with India’s position as the world’s largest vaccine-maker gave many a triumphant feeling and they returned to the types of behaviours that make the virus flourish.
Here in T&T, the script is almost the same on a smaller scale. Cases had dropped significantly in the first few months of this year and vaccines were finally coming in, though small in number. As a result, unguarded citizens felt the worst was over and lax behaviours began to spread. We now face a spike, with hundreds of new cases and several deaths in the last couple of weeks.
Healthcare officials are warning that intensive care units are filling up and that the discovery of the highly transmissible Brazil variant can severely impact us if we do not take the right precautions.
It is a call for renewed vigilance and an appeal for the prevalence of good sense, again.
India’s beacon is but a lighthouse today, warning of dangers ahead for those maintaining sailing off the chartered course.
We remain grateful for their kindness and offer them our sincerest support and prayers.
But we must also learn from their mistakes and avoid the pitfalls they’ve experienced by keeping our guards up.
Until we truly achieve herd immunity and the spread becomes negligible, our vigilance must continue.