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The slow death of hope

It shouldn’t feel so different. After all, we have been here before.

Last year, we were locked in at home for months while the government tried to cope with what was then, the worst Pandemic since the Spanish Flu of the early Twentieth Century.


And yet, this time feels totally different.


   The last time around too there were stories about the rapid spread of cases. There were appeals on social media for ventilator beds at hospitals. There were queues at crematoria. There was widespread paranoia about surfaces. Don’t touch newspapers, we were told. Don’t touch boxes or packages. Don’t touch takeaway foods. Don’t even touch currency notes.


   This time around, the lockdown is not so stringent. The stuff about getting Covid from surfaces has been debunked and put into context. (Yes, it is theoretically possible but very unlikely.) We have faced Covid before and it is no longer a mysterious new threat.


   And yet, we are more depressed, more panicked, more paranoid and more gloomy about the future than we have been at any time since the Covid pandemic started.


   What’s made the difference?


   Two words.


   Confidence. And Hope.


   During the first wave, we were confident that the lockdown was a holding operation. That, as terrible as it was, the crisis would peter out. Doctors were looking for solutions. There would soon be a vaccine. We would augment hospital capacity. Should the virus return for a second massive bite out of us, we would be prepared. We had confidence in the government and in its medical establishment.


   This time around, we realise that we were betrayed. That the confidence was misplaced.


   And last time we had hope. We believed then, that for all its problems, India was on its way to becoming a major power. That the virus was a global phenomenon and given how low our death rates were (compared to some Western countries) we would actually emerge stronger than the rest of the world when the crisis ended.


   It is getting harder and harder to be hopeful now.


   Let’s take the betrayal of confidence, first.


   Our primary hope lay in the vaccine. And in fact the vaccine developed by Oxford University did come along pretty much on schedule. India took a while to approve it perhaps because we were waiting for a domestic vaccine, created by Bharat Biotech to also be ready so that we could launch both together and claim that this was an achievement of Atmanirbhar Bharat.


   No matter. At least we had the vaccines.


   Then, the screw-ups began. Not recognising the need for emergency action, we rolled out the programme too slowly. When other vaccine manufacturers asked for permission to sell in India, we were sniffy. We don’t need Pfizer, we said. Will Sputnik even work in summer temperatures in Rajasthan? Go and do more tests before we approve, we told them.


"Despite the urgency of the situation, only around two per cent of our population has been fully vaccinated (both doses) to date."

   Instead of taking the line that, if a vaccine was approved for use by the world’s major countries, you needed to do very little further research before buying it, we insisted that we had to run the approvals process from scratch. (As a matter of interest, the so-called Indian vaccines are still not approved in the US. Neither AstraZeneca --- which we call ‘Indian’ because we manufacture it in India under licence in Poona — nor the Bharat Biotech vaccine have been approved in the US.)


   The priority then was to score political points. We were going to use Indian vaccines, we were told. We would not import any vaccines from abroad, even if they were available (which, given the demand, was already a big ask). The vaccine programme would be the Prime Minister’s personal triumph. They even put his photo on the vaccine certificates.


   You can argue about the merits of this strategy but what you can’t dispute is that we did not order enough doses to vaccinate most of our people. Even today, many centres run out of vaccines. It is generally accepted that we face a vaccine shortage.


   Despite the urgency of the situation, only around two per cent of our population has been fully vaccinated (both doses) to date.


   Two percent.


   Confidence in these guys?


   You must be kidding.


   And then there is the oxygen problem. Covid itself may or may not necessarily be fatal but if a patient in serious condition doesn’t get oxygen, he or she dies. Each day, scores of people who should have lived, die because hospitals do not have enough oxygen.


   Who is to blame for those killings?


   In Delhi the state government blames the Centre for the oxygen shortage. The Centre blames the state government. Either way, it is a governmental failure.


   Can you really have confidence in those people? In the health ‘experts’ who screwed up the vaccination policy? In the politicians who played with lives to advance their own petty interests.


   And as for hope, well, here’s why that is so hard to rely on.


   Last year, Dr. VK Paul, the government’s Covid Czar told us that the pandemic would wind down by May 2020.


   Earlier this year, Harsh Vardhan, the Health Minister bowed low before Baba Ramdev before endorsing Coronil, a ‘medicine’ that was first advertised as a cure for Covid, and then, when that claim could not be sustained, described as an immunity-booster. Dr. Paul did his bit. He urged us to have haldi milk, kadha and Chyawanprash if we had Covid. This was while he was still denying most of us the vaccine. As for the pandemic, Harsh Vardhan told us, we were in the endgame.


   Who can have any hope when the people who are supposed to look after our health are such negligent nitwits?


   As deaths have risen, the Prime Minister has stepped in. Every vaccine that has been approved abroad can be used in India, you can import vaccines, and the eligibility criteria have been expanded. Everything the government’s critics had asked for has finally been done.


   But no, though the PM has overturned every one of their decisions (when it is too late to save many lives) not one of the guys who landed us in this mess has been sacked or held accountable.


   So if you can’t have hope in the health ‘experts’ can you have hope in their political masters?


   Not a chance.


   Politicians knew what they were doing when they held super-spreader rallies in Bengal. They knew what they were doing when they allowed the Kumbh to go ahead. They can’t be surprised that Covid cases have surged in Bengal and Uttaranchal.


   So that’s why, this time around, there is zero confidence and so little hope.


   Last year, we settled down to a holding operation, steeled ourselves for sacrifices, baked bread at home and looked for distracting lockdown activities. This time, we are panicked and desperate. We have been betrayed.


   And we don’t know who to turn to.



Posted On: 27 Apr 2021 04:48 PM
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