The COVID 19 pandemic stopped the world. Most of the globe entered in quarantine to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, some with great success, others not so much. Now, we witness the consequences of the pandemic in one of the most populated countries in the world: India. The country is famous for its colossal population growth, low living standards, questionable working conditions and a bad public health system. A terrible recipe to face an epidemic.
The first confirmed case was reported on the 30th of January and many others in the months that followed. . It was on the 24th of March that the government implemented a countrywide lockdown, with 519 confirmed cases, forcing 1350 million people to stay at home in quarantine. Out of those, 280 million live under the poverty line.
Everyone is highly advised to stay indoors and commuting between and within cities or villages is either greatly conditioned or prohibited. Some neighbourhoods in big cities are completely blocked by fences. Even movement of goods, some essentials like food, are conditioned.
A great number of Indians lost all sources of income due to the confinement. It wasn’t long when people started disobeying it. Not because they do not fear nor understand the threat of the virus, but because they have no other choice. If the markets do not open, suppliers can’t sell their products and earn the little income they need to survive, and consumers are unable to obtain essential goods like food and health protection equipment. Also, because of the movement restrictions, the markets that do open have a shortage in supply. Therefore, prices for food and masks have inflated by around 30% according to Público.
Citizens are desperate as they can’t lose their sources of income as, if they do, they’ll most likely starve. Nevertheless, the lockdown and confinement are being enforced by the police, many times resorting to violence. There are reports of police forces beating up big crowds and drivers that are passing where they shouldn’t. They were probably just trying to deliver food to shops or driving to the only market opened for miles.
In the big cities, the situation is much worse. In Mumbai, for example, there are 27000 people per square kilometre. Many live in slums: enormous neighbourhoods with streets no more than 3 meters wide and exposed sewers, where many houses are just composed of one room. Families of 5 members cook, eat and sleep in that one room. How did they get there? Most of them are people from rural areas, brough to the city to work. They accept the job for a low salary and one of those houses in the slums that are generally provided by the company.
During this crisis, the majority either lost their jobs, did not receive the full monthly wages or both. These people now have no income, no home, and no food supplies, being their survival very dependent on food charities. This is the reality for a great number of Indians, having the unemployment rate reached 23.5% last April, according to the Centre of Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE).
Some try to leave the city on foot as trains and buses are non-operational. If found, the police will beat them and force them to go back, which they do, just to try again by a different route. When they are able to pass, these families carry their children for hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles to return to their home regions. They walk right next to the highways. 180 people, including a 2 years old girl, already died on these routes, either by exhaustion or run over by a passing car. When they reach another settlement, the police will probably try to keep them out.
In the middle of all this, the government has tried to help, but with no success. It has provided buses and train rides between cities, but there aren’t enough for so many. It correctly informed the population about the threat of the virus and why it is so important to stay at home, and acted quickly when more positive cases were being confirmed. But instead of sustaining the confinement by supplying the population, they lockdown cities by all means necessary.
Everything they have to show for their hard efforts, both from part of the government and the people, are the statistics. By the time that this article was written, India had a number of confirmed cases and confirmed deaths that put the mortality rate in 0,03%. Relatively speaking, that is not bad. Many call it a miracle or, at the very least, a mystery. It also has a great number of recovered people. It is true that India has a young population and a generally hot climate, both factors contributing positively to ease the severity of the proliferation of the virus. But that does not tell the full story.
Testing in India has not been enough in comparison with the rest of the world. The hospitals seem completely full of COVID-19 cases. Some became so restricted that other patients cannot get treatment for other diseases, like HIV/AIDS. India is also full of other dangerous illnesses. Pulmonary Tuberculosis, a disease eradicated in so many countries, still exists there and has very similar symptoms as the coronavirus like persistent cough, fever, fatigue and breathlessness. Of all deaths in India, only 22% are medically certified, and wrong diagnosis are often. Hence, many deaths are not being registered as COVID-19 caused, when some most likely are. Many deaths happen at home in India. A family member reports it by phone, and then authorities conduct a “verbal autopsy”.
Under-reporting of COVID-19 cases and deaths is not uncommon amongst infected countries, but India already has a reputation of a terrible account of its diseases and deaths. All of this makes you wonder: how viable are those “miraculous” statistics?
What is more dangerous, the disease or the lockdown preventing it?
Many specialists are studying to get an answer for this question, but for the time being, we just don’t know. Until we have a better understanding and a better system to deal with the pandemic in India, the disease will continue to spread and people will die, let it be by the disease, starvation or another cause related to the lockdown. And as it was shown to us this year, the world can always get worse. A new strain of the coronavirus was found in India, resulting from a mutation, that experts say there is still no reason for alarm, but it can lead to the ineffectiveness of a potential COVID-19 vaccine. Not only that, but the strongest storm ever recorded in the Bay of Bengal, the Cyclone Amphan, is about to hit India and Bangladesh.
The people of India are in need of international help now more than ever. If you think you can help, please consider donating to a charity institution, such as Kolkata Relief.
Sources: Público, RTP, ABC, South China Morning Post, BBC, CNN, CMIE, MoHFW.