In Basi, about an hour and a half from the capital New Delhi, about three-quarters of the village’s 5,400 residents are sick and more than 30 have died in the past three weeks. He has no health facilities, no doctors, no cans of oxygen. And unlike India’s urban social media literate population, locals cannot appeal on Twitter to an army of strangers ready to help.
“Most of the deaths in the village were caused because there was no oxygen available,” said Sanjeev Kumar, the newly elected leader of the farming community. “The sick are rushed to the district headquarters and these extremely ill patients have to travel around four hours,” he said, adding that many do not arrive on time.
It is a scenario that is playing out all over India. In interviews with representatives from more than 18 towns and villages in different parts of the country, officials described the scale of the carnage – from entire families wiped out, to swollen bodies floating on the Ganges, to farmland left untended due to the lack of workers.
Many people said the scale of the crisis was much greater than official figures show, with villagers afraid to leave their homes even though they have a fever and local authorities fail to properly record. deaths from the virus. India reported a record 4,329 deaths on Tuesday, while the total number of reported cases exceeded 25 million, according to figures from the Ministry of Health.
Anger is mounting both within Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration and local authorities for failing to strengthen medical infrastructure following a wave of the virus last year, including the obtaining an adequate supply of oxygen and vaccines. Ruling party Bharatiya Janata last month lost local elections in Basi and other parts of Uttar Pradesh – India’s most populous state – as the country began to register nearly 400 000 new cases per day.
Sentiment on the ground suggests broader issues for Modi and his fellow BJP leader Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh who has been mentioned as a possible successor to the prime minister. The state is holding elections next year.
“We had full support for Modi and Yogi, but now, whatever happens, we will vote the BJP,” said Sahab Singh, 72, in central Basi, which was virtually empty. He noted that people were too afraid to leave their homes.
In the recent election to appoint village chiefs, many election officials were infected – including Kumarsain Nain, 59, who caught the virus with her 31-year-old son. Unable to walk and breathless, Nain’s family took him to a nearby hospital last month after being unable to find an ambulance with an oxygen supply, another son, Praveen Kumar, said.
“After we got to the hospital, the doctors said he died, but instead of registering Covid-19 as the cause of death, they put in cardiac arrest,” Kumar said. “The doctor told us that it was not necessary to check if my father tested positive for Covid-19 since he was already dead.”
Her brother died shortly after at another clinic about 30 minutes away, along with six other patients also on oxygen. “I suspect the hospital ran out of oxygen, which resulted in death,” Kumar said. “Holding the election when the government knew the cases were increasing and the infection was spreading is a criminal act.”
Representatives from the prime minister’s office and the health ministry did not respond to the request for comment. Modi addressed the issue on May 14 following a meeting with several chief ministers. “I want to warn you about the crown. The infection is spreading rapidly in the villages, ”said the Prime Minister. “Efforts are being made to remedy this.”
Baijoyant “Jay” Panda, a senior official at Modi’s BJP, told Bloomberg Television on Monday that the latest wave of the virus had been a “humiliating experience,” but pointed to a significant roll-out of immunization and vaccine delivery in more from 80 countries in the world. awareness raising effort.
He defended Modi’s response, saying election officials made the decision to conduct polls and states were responsible for building oxygen plants that received federal funding.
“It wasn’t just the Prime Minister who thought we had overcome the crown’s greatest ravages – the consensus in India at the start of January was that we had,” Panda said. “Many epidemiologists critical today said publicly in October that the worst is over and that we shouldn’t have so many restrictions.”
Covid-19 adds to Modi’s problems with a severe economic recession, rising unemployment and protests by farmers against a law seen to favor big business, according to Nikita South, associate professor of international development at the University of Oxford and author of a book on Hindu nationalism.
“It is too simplistic to say that the mismanagement of Covid means the reversal of the trend for the Modi regime,” said Sud. “However, the regime appears oversized for the first time since coming to power in 2014.
As Delhi’s rulers struggle to contain the crisis, gruesome scenes are unfolding across India. Last week, in the eastern state of Bihar, residents woke up to find as many as 70 swollen bodies floating in the Ganges. With crematoriums overflowing as the death toll rises, they feared these bodies were Covid victims whose families could not put them to rest. Other corpses have since been reported along the river.
The federal and state governments “have abandoned us all,” said Rajesh Sharma, owner of a travel agency in the Hindu pilgrimage town of Ujjain in central Madhya Pradesh.
“India has had a full year to prepare, but other than sending vaccines out of the country for personal merit and glory, nothing has been done,” he said. “There are no hospital beds, no drugs. The people are dead. In and around Ujjain, entire families have died in the past two weeks.
In Punjab, a northern state on the border with Pakistan, local authorities are asking volunteers among accredited social health activists from India, one million residents, to visit every house to urge people to get vaccinated and see if anyone has a fever. While the group is well known for working under difficult conditions to provide childhood vaccinations and basic first aid to villages, the scale of the current crisis is unprecedented, said Balbir, one of the workers.
“A lot of people are so scared that they don’t even tell anyone about their fever,” she said, asking to be identified only by her first name due to fear of a backlash from local authorities in the district. of Ludhiana, where infections spread rapidly. “Despite such a surge, they still didn’t give us adequate protection: no mask, no gloves, nothing.”
Uttarakhand has also been hit hard. The Himalayan foothills state has seen virus cases jump nearly 20 times after hosting more than nine million people for the Hindu religious festival known as Kumbh Mela between March 31 and April 24.
“There is no house in Rishikesh where people are not sick – Haridwar is also in a similar condition,” said Navin Mohan, who helps organize tours of holy cities on the banks of the Ganges.
“The pandemic is now really out of control,” Mohan said. “Thousands of people are dying and will die in the coming weeks. The government is misleading the numbers, but the reality is visible to everyone. “