I woke up last Thursday morning, and instead of the motivational quotes I usually stumble across on my Instagram stories, I saw black screens that read out “URGENT!” in bold red letters. Two of them were from my kindergarten friends. They were both asking for plasma donations for their family members. My heart sunk. “Is this because of COVID-19?” I wondered to myself. I rushed to my living room and switched on the TV hoping to hear some good news. I started to panic as I read the headlines. A journalist sat in her office, reading from the teleprompter in a monotonous voice that COVID-19 is back, stronger than ever. I was disappointed hearing this, but not surprised at all.
India has undergone a massive spike in COVID-19 cases over the past week. India reported 314,835 positive cases, and 2,014 deaths on April 22 - the highest number of cases reported by any country during the pandemic. The situation in India is worse than it has ever been before; only one thousand people had tested positive this time last year. Almost every Indian’s social media timelines, including mine, are filled with reposts of people looking for plasma, hospital beds, remdesivir, fabiflu, crematoriums, spaces in burial grounds, or oxygen. Yes - oxygen. India is gasping for air, and all I can do is watch.
On April 21, 24 patients requiring oxygen at a hospital in Nashik, Maharashtra, died when an oxygen tanker leaked outside. “#IndiaNeedsOxygen” started trending on Twitter later that night, with various tweets criticising Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who allowed oxygen exports to double earlier this year. Though this decision boosted global perceptions of India, the country is paying the price at home one citizen at a time.
The government is being criticised for lack of preparation for a second wave, which was inevitable given international trends. Large gatherings were encouraged in the country until the very last minute until states imposed partial and full restrictions. The Hindu reported around a week ago that the Kumbh Mela - a large religious pilgrimage expecting around 3.5 million people this year - saw 1,700 positive COVID-19 results in a span of five days. Not just religious, but political gatherings for West Bengal’s elections were also only cancelled two days ago. Economist and epidemiologist Ramanan Laxminarayan commented “complacency and lack of preparation by the government [has] pushed the country into an unprecedented crisis.”
The blame is not just on the government, however - it is twofold. The general public became complacent after the end of the first wave. India’s densely populated capital - New Delhi - started reporting less than 200 COVID positive cases in February, and soon the “rule of three” of sanitising, social distancing and wearing a mask was neglected by many. Laxminarayan believes that the “popular impatience to get back to earlier lives” led to the current crisis. Hopefully cases will decline as people above the age of eighteen start receiving their vaccines after the first of May, but the adequate distribution and availability of these vaccines remains to be seen.
Many people are currently feeling helpless in this situation. They are filled with guilt, shock, and remorse, watching the news or distracting themselves by watching Indian Premier League from the comfort of their living rooms. The uncertainty of COVID-19 still looms over our head, though. The second wave is closer to home than ever before. Right now conflict, chaos, and confusion all lie in the air alongside COVID-19. But with it, there is also a collective sense of camaraderie within society. Celebrities and social media influencers have taken to their large Instagram, Twitter and Facebook platforms to arrange and facilitate blood donations, hospital beds, and medication for those that require them. When government officials fail to get the job done, the general public are helping to save lives around the country.
The glut of information on news channels and social media is overwhelming. While there once was a soul and personality behind a death; Indian deaths today are merely statistics. It is especially difficult to process this information whilst preparing and revising for exams and completing assignments. However, witnessing India’s second wave after somehow surviving its first has already given me an increased sense of appreciation for my surroundings.
My utmost love and respect goes out to those who are currently working on the front lines to save lives. Reading some of their candid stories, particularly resident anaesthesiologist Saandhra’s story (which can be found @officialhumansofbombay on Instagram), helps me understand and reflect on the gravity of this situation. “It’s a privilege to stay at home,” she states. I can only hope that going forward, every person around the world-- not just Indians--are aware of that privilege and that they abide by the rules and continue to support and offer help to those in need.
COVID-19 is sadly far from over, but hopefully this too shall pass.