India has become a gruesome epicenter of the global pandemic, surpassing the grim milestones of cases and deaths per day set by the U.S. Up until late March, India was regularly reporting 10,000 new cases a day, but at the beginning of April numbers started to skyrocket into the hundreds of thousands. On April 27th, the health ministry announced 350,000 new cases for the previous day, marking the ninth day in a row of 250,000 or more new cases of coronavirus. Even these shocking numbers are a drastic underestimation. Journalists are reporting that numbers are being underreported under pressure from the reactionary BJP regime led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with crematorium workers being instructed to list the cause of death as “sickness” rather than “COVID.” In a recent New York Times article, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan estimated that the true death count may be two to five times higher than the 201,000 officially reported.
Healthcare System on the Verge of Collapse
The Indian healthcare system, already ranked by the World Health Organization as one of the worst, is approaching complete collapse. It is now almost impossible to find a hospital bed. Oxygen supplies are at or near zero. Thousands of people are forced into a desperate struggle to find oxygen and hospital beds on the private market and even in underground “black markets,” and thousands more suffocate as they wait in line for treatment. The government has reinstated lockdowns, but without the economic aid needed to help people survive in place. Thousands are forced to migrate back to the rural parts of the country, potentially bringing the virus with them.
At crematoriums across the country, hundreds of bodies lay piled up, rotting, because they are unable to burn the bodies of the dead fast enough. In the capital, New Delhi, some have been running uninterrupted for so long that the iron grating has started to melt. Without immediate action to respond to this rapid increase in infections, India could face potentially millions of deaths in the coming months.
Vaccine Nationalism and New Variants
This continuing nightmare is partly a function of a new variant of the virus that has become the dominant strain in the country, accounting for 70% of new cases. It’s been dubbed “the double mutant” because it contains two genetic variations previously only found separately. One mutation allows the variant to bypass the body’s immune response more effectively, and the other makes it much more contagious.
However, the primary responsibility lies at the door of the Modi regime, with its reckless disregard for the threat to human life. With its close ties to billionaires and big business interests, the regime pulled back the restrictions that had been in place for the latter half of 2020. This was a stunning move, contrary to the recommendations from health experts globally. It is only explained by the fact that in nations with vast proportions of poverty-stricken informal-sector workers, the capitalist class and their political representatives were emboldened enough to prematurely open the economy to regenerate profits despite the grave public health risks that were posed.
Activists worldwide have been demanding for months that the World Trade Organization (WTO) immediately share the patents of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine patents, which appear to be more effective against new variants, so that countries like India, Brazil, and South Africa can rapidly produce generic versions of the vaccine. Currently, billions in the global South do not have access to the vaccine, and public health experts say millions of lives could be lost without enabling generic vaccines. As a further indictment of capitalism, even this necessary life-saving measure has been blocked by the U.S., the UK, and the EU who have veto power within the WTO. Democratic President Biden and others are protecting the profits of Moderna and Pfizer, over and against the lives of millions in India, and throughout the world. In addition to Big Pharma executives, bIllionaires like Bill Gates have vocally and fiercely opposed allowing generic vaccines. Activists fighting to end this vaccine apartheid have correctly called Gates out to be a “vaccine racketeer.”
What Must be Done
Renewed lockdowns must be supplemented by economic relief to allow working people to stay at home. If these policies aren’t put in place, working people should move into action. In non-essential industries, workers should go on strike, if necessary, to ensure a sufficient lockdown, and demand regular payments to make it viable. The Indian working class and poor must act, if necessary; defeat the spread of the virus, and then get rid of one of its fundamental causes, the Modi regime itself!