The COVID-19 situation in India is worsening according to the government’s data. As the country is gripped with a steady rise in new COVID-19 infections since December 2021, especially due to the Omicron variant, experts are asserting that the third wave of COVID-19 may have hit the country.
On January 8th 2022, India had a total of 159,632 new infections and 327 deaths. Though this number is quite a little vis-à-vis that of the second wave of COVID-19 that had ravaged India from April to May 2021, these numbers may spiral significantly if the situation isn’t normalised immediately.
As usual, the government appears clueless. Since imposing his utmost disastrous countrywide lockdown in March 2020, which went on till June 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been delegating such authorities to the States to ensure that the people don’t blame him for any catastrophe. However, the States are following his footsteps and the same restriction guidelines that the Union Ministry of Home Affairs has been issuing.
There is little that the Union government under him is doing to control the situation. The Indian States have been following the typical lockdown and quarantine route that the western governments have been unsuccessfully following since 2020. Cloaked as “Covid restrictions”, these measures don’t help to end the spreading of infection but severely impact the livelihoods of the poor and the marginalised.
What’s the current COVID-19 situation?
Starting with West Bengal, which is now experiencing a massive surge in new cases—third in India after Maharashtra and Delhi—with 18,802 new infections on January 8th 2022 and 19 deaths, most states with a high number of COVID-19 infections have imposed restrictions on public life.
Dr Anima Halder, principal of the Infectious Diseases and Beliaghata General (ID & BG) Hospital of Kolkata, told news agency PTI, “Cases in our state, especially in Kolkata have gone up by 12-fold. Every third person coming for a test is testing positive for the disease”.
Earlier, Dr Halder had suggested that the state government re-impose the COVID-19 restrictions and held it responsible for the surge in cases after crowds thronged Kolkata’s Park Street to celebrate Christmas. Many also came out to celebrate New Year’s Eve with much fanfare throughout the state’s urban landscape. The surge in cases has allowed the government to impose restrictions it deems necessary to combat the disease.
To tackle the third wave of COVID-19, Chief Minister Mamata Bandopadhyay-led West Bengal government issued a list of restrictions that drew public ire. The guidelines smack of sheer hypocrisy, celebrate mediocrity and lack basic common sense.
Ridiculous COVID-19 restrictions
According to the West Bengal government’s COVID-19 guidelines, the educational institutions in the state, which were opened at the end of last year following massive students’ movements, will remain closed again until the next review of the situation by the mid of month. The bars and pubs remain open though.
The plying of local trains—suburban railway system which connects with capital Kolkata—was allowed until 7pm. However, massive people’s resentment forced Bandopadhyay to retreat on this matter. The suburban trains now ply till 10pm. All shopping malls, cinema halls, etc, remain open with 50% occupancy until 10pm.
West Bengal has imposed a night curfew from 10pm onwards to fight the third wave of COVID-19. At the same time, it is allowing the Gangasagar Mela, a religious congregation of Hindus, to take place.
Following such ridiculous examples, other provinces like Delhi, Karnataka, Maharashtra, etc, have imposed their own set of night and weekend curfews. Most public and private enterprises are asked to resort to work with 50% of staff on weekdays.
Karnataka has extended the night curfew in Bengaluru for two weeks and has imposed weekend curfews as well. The state has also shut the schools and pre-university colleges, except for 10th and 12th standard students for two weeks. Karnataka logged 8,906 new cases with four deaths on Friday, January 8th 2022.
Dr K Sudhakar, Karnataka’s health minister, has expressed his worry over the fact that the number of new cases is doubling within one to two days during the apparent third wave of COVID-19, which used to double once in 15 days and eight to ten days during the first and the second wave of COVID-19 respectively.
Maharashtra recorded 41,434 new cases and 13 deaths on January 8th 2022. The Maharashtra government has also imposed “restrictions” to combat the apparent third wave of COVID-19. As usual, the schools and colleges in Pune will remain closed for 30 days. There are restrictions on public life as well.
Whither third wave of COVID-19?
With such ridiculous restrictions, India’s fight against the third wave of COVID-19 will not be different from its disarrayed approach towards the first and the second waves, which resulted in numerous deaths and devastation for thousands of families all over the country.
What killed people wasn’t the SARS-COV2 virus, but the sheer failure of the dilapidated public healthcare system and wrong priorities set by the government. But no remarkable steps have been taken by the Union or the States, except for rhetoric, to deal with future challenges.
More than Rs 350bn was allocated for India’s massive vaccination programme targeting a billion people. After rolling out the programme for senior citizens in January 2021, the Modi regime started vaccination for everyone above the age of 18 from May 2021 onwards. From January 2022, India has started vaccinating the adolescent population, ie, those between 15 and 18 years of age.
So far, 1.50bn doses have been administered and, even after that, experts are predicting that the third wave of COVID-19 is going to hit India soon. As per the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras’s estimation, the third wave of COVID-19 in India will reach its peak between February 1st and February 15th 2022.
According to IIT Kanpur professor Manindra Agrawal, who is leading the government’s Sutra model to mathematically predict the spread of the virus, the third wave of COVID-19 will hit India by end of January, when the daily cases can surge to 400,000 to 800,000, with the cities like Delhi and Mumbai experiencing 50,000 to 60,000 cases daily.
India’s R-Value is detected 4 this week, which means one infected can transmit the disease to four others. This means a year-long vaccination programme is going to fall on its face as it has been unable to contain the rise of COVID-19 cases and the consecutive waves. The natural mutation of the virus has been bringing newer variants, which the existing vaccines—that allegedly didn’t go through stringent trial processes—are unable to resist.
What are the problems with India’s COVID-19 restrictions?
Even though this situation is visible to all, the governments, both Union and States, aren’t taking any corrective actions but are obstinately pushing for vaccination and imposing restrictions on public life.
The World Health Organization (WHO) had claimed that “night curfews” and “weekend curfews” don’t prevent the COVID-19 virus from spreading, but the Indian government, alike its western counterparts, refused to heed to any scientific knowledge and continues its juggernaut of “restrictions” that jeopardise the livelihoods of the poor.
Moreover, the fact is that India’s lockdowns and “restrictions” don’t just harm the poor and the marginalised economically, but also make these people victims of state repression. Modi’s lockdown and the subsequent “restrictions” are called “crimes against humanity” by writer Arundhati Roy.
The police unleash macabre atrocities on the poor during the lockdowns and “restrictions”. Women also suffer a lot of violence and sexual abuse due to these lockdowns and restrictions. Crimes against the marginalised and ostracised Dalits and tribal people also rose over 21% during the lockdown period. There has been a rise in cybercrime as well during such lockdowns.
It’s not just India, but most of the countries are following similar containment measures and imposing restrictions. In Asia, China is leading the bandwagon with its strict “restrictions” which, critics say, often hinges on people’s rights. The US government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been facing a barrage of criticism over confusion stemming out of its new COVID-19 guidelines on the isolation of people who test positive.
Similarly, the restrictions that the western governments and India promote, are not only destroying the livelihoods of the poor for the sake of the rich and the upper-middle class but also, they are also causing severe harm to the health and wellness of the common people.
What’s the solution?
In October 2020, the Great Barrington Declaration was issued by Dr Martin Kulldorfd, professor of medicine at Harvard University, Dr Sunetra Gupta, professor at Oxford University and Dr Jay Bhattacharya, professor at Stanford University Medical School.
These three are veteran epidemiologists with expertise in detecting, monitoring infectious diseases and vaccine development. The Declaration was also co-signed by over 40 epidemiologists, immunology and similar medical experts from around the world.
The Great Barrington Declaration emphasises a two-pronged action in dealing with the pandemic. It suggests, citing data, that the youth are less susceptible to the COVID-19 pandemic and the old are highly vulnerable.
Going by the herd immunity theory, it’s suggested by the Declaration that while the governments should work on raising health awareness regarding the pandemic and help people adopt hygienic practices in their lives, the restrictions on public life should be removed.
The Declaration stated that mandatory wearing of face masks, social distancing and lockdowns can’t prevent the COVID-19 infection from spreading. It suggested that only the old and those with comorbidities be vaccinated while the youth, who have shown resilience against the virus, be allowed to continue to live a normal life and develop natural immunity against the virus.
Dr Kulldorfd and Dr Bhattacharya are vocal on social media against the faulty vaccine policies and lockdown measures undertaken by different governments. They have been asking for an age-specific approach towards the vaccine.
Back in 2020, Dr Kulldorfd wrote: “Just as in war, we must exploit the characteristics of the enemy to defeat it with the minimum number of casualties. Since COVID-19 operates in a highly age specific manner, mandated counter measures must also be age specific. If not, lives will be unnecessarily lost (sic).”
One of the reasons that the governments aren’t abiding by the herd immunity theory and aren’t adopting bespoke age-specific measures to curb the virus among the people according to their age group and comorbidities can be their unwillingness to meddle in the profiteering drive of big pharmaceuticals and other corporate houses.
How has the pandemic helped the big pharma profiteer?
In her “Virus: Vaccinations, the CDC, and the Hijacking of America’s Response to the Pandemic”, Nina Burleigh wrote that the American big pharma companies were easing out of the vaccine business because it wasn’t profitable anymore. The logic was that people take a vaccine only once or twice, but they do consume medicines daily.
Only a handful of large companies—Merck, Sanofi, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson—were making vaccines in the US in 2019. However, the COVID-19 outbreak from Wuhan, China, changed the scenario by mid-2020.
The White House pushed these companies to research and produce hundreds of millions of vaccine doses for which the Congress allocated $10bn initially and, ultimately under the US government’s COVID-19 relief programme Operation Warp Seeds (OWS), the big pharma got $22bn from the public exchequer.
The trio will make pre-tax profits of $34bn in 2021 alone. How is this possible? It’s possible as the US government is putting money under the OWS into these firms to grow their profits without asking for any accountability regarding the efficacy of the vaccines.
Moreover, these companies, especially Pfizer, which has been using its vaccines to boost its market share, are refusing to share the recipe of vaccines with the under-developed and poorer countries. This has ensured an abundance of vaccines for the rich white population in the US and Europe, while the poor people in Asia-Africa and Latin America suffer without it.
In India, Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech, which developed India’s homemade vaccine Covaxin, hailed the government’s allocation of Rs 350bn in COVID-19 vaccine development in early 2021. However, until November 2021, Covaxin didn’t get any kind of recognition from the WHO. It was only after a lot of diplomatic manoeuvring that the Modi regime managed to cajole the WHO to accept the Covaxin in November 2021.
Now, even though the Covaxin project has been a public-funded project and the Indian government has been paying for the development and manufacturing of the vaccine, it’s alleged that the vaccine isn’t just an expensive one, Bharat Biotech has obfuscated its financial dealings with the government. There is absolutely no information in the public domain regarding the amount of money Bharat Biotech has received from the government and how it was spent.
Moreover, while the COVID-19 vaccination isn’t made mandatory by the law, the States are issuing several restrictions that amount to the ostracisation of those who didn’t take the vaccine shots. The States are violating the people’s right over their bodies and are forcing them, by creating adverse conditions, to inoculate themselves.
This, at a time when the existing vaccination failed to contain the spread of new variants and, the Modi regime has been promoting “booster dosages” to counter the rise of Omicron variety. Moreover, all public services are getting restricted to those who are vaccinated, making vaccination indirectly mandatory for all adults, irrespective of their choice.
In Chennai, amid the purported third wave of COVID-19, only those with complete vaccination will be able to board the suburban trains. Different government and private workplaces in all major cities have made it mandatory for their workforce to get vaccinated to work.
While though the government still says that COVID-19 vaccination is non-mandatory, the way it’s pushed, pulverising all types of credible scientific objections show that the only goal of the government is to enrich the big pharma companies. Also, this frantic push for vaccination will pave the way for vaccine passes in India, as the European governments are pushing.
The “vaccine passes” are special passes issued to fully-vaccinated people to travel and stay out during COVID-19 lockdowns in European cities. This will build a discriminatory system under which the people will be forced to take vaccines that aren’t guaranteeing any real prevention of COVID-19 infection, or they will face ostracisation.
Throughout Europe, the people’s resentment has resulted in mass movements against the “vaccine passes” as the working class is strongly opposing the attempts by the governments to control their bodies and lives to enrich the big pharma companies.
However, in third world countries like India, the complicity of the Opposition in promoting the paranoia over COVID-19 didn’t let the people’s resentment against the COVID-19 restrictions and mandatory vaccination turn into effective movements against such violations of their constitutional rights.
Dealing with the COVID-19 and ending the paranoia
The COVID-19 is here to stay and that’s how viruses behave. It will mutate to new forms regularly. The coming of the third wave of COVID-19 proved that the earlier measures and vaccination failed to resist it, as a one-size-fits-all solution can’t resolve this outbreak.
What’s required is a proactive and preventive public healthcare infrastructure development, age-specific targeted measures and a relaxation of the restrictions to help people who aren’t in the high-risk category to develop natural immunity against the virus while living a normal life.
Unless India adopts a different approach, a set of new measures to combat the COVID-19 menace, it can’t save the high-risk category people. The third wave of COVID-19 won’t be the last one. Unless a targeted approach is adhered to turn the pandemic into an epidemic, there can’t be a real end to the issue, but illogical restrictions will further destroy the lives and livelihoods of the working class and the marginalised.