04/28/2021, 16.09
INDIA
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Surge in COVID-19 cases avoidable

The official death toll tops 200,000 for the whole country, but evidence suggests that real number is probably much higher. “COVID-19 deaths in hospital are recorded, but many die at home,” said Bishop Thottumarickal. “Many of these deaths could have been avoided if we had had adequate stocks of medicines and oxygen,” noted Father D'Souza.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – From one end to another of India, death and cremation pyres are everywhere. For days, COVID-19 has been raging, turning the country into the epicentre of the pandemic. The lack of medical treatment, hospital beds, ventilators and oxygen cylinders are to blame for most of the dead.

In the past 24 hours, 3,292 deaths were reported, pushing the total death toll above 200,000. Delhi alone had a record 381 deaths in a single day. However, there is a lot of evidence that these figures largely underestimate the real numbers.

New Delhi Television (NDTV) compared the numbers of bodies burnt in recent days in crematoria set up for COVID-19 patients, and the official figures released by the Indian government, showing a difference of 1,158 more deaths than reported. In Delhi local authorities are preparing for a thousand cremations a day.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Bishop Chacko Thottumarickal of Indore (Madhya Pradesh), SVD, acknowledged the discrepancy between the official death toll and the real situation. “COVID-19 deaths in hospital are recorded,” said the prelate. “But many die at home and in villages and their death does not appear.”

“The death rate in Indore is very high; more than a thousand. Hospitals are full; people wait for beds that are not available. Oxygen is in short supply, and essential medicines are rationed. Many young people are also dying; last week a Verbite priest died, two days ago a diocesan priest did.”

For Father Frederick D'Souza, former executive director of Caritas India, “The new wave has caught us unprepared. There are many reasons for this,” namely, “a more contagious strain of the virus, people not paying attention to health measures, equipment shortages.”

“This time, more young people are dying compared to the first wave and the contagion is spreading quickly.” But one thing is clear: “Many of these deaths could have been avoided if we had had adequate stocks of medicines and oxygen. Instead, chaos reigns.”

“With oxygen shortages in hospitals, why are individuals still allowed to buy cylinders?” he asks. “Then there's the question of vaccines. They cost less than a new lockdown. So why can't they be free for everyone?”

“The Indian government should be held accountable for the lack of appropriate policies” and throwing “the country into chaos.” For now, the Modi administration seems more concerned about containing criticisms on social media, such as getting Twitter to block some posts by politicians and journalists it accuses of spreading panic.

Meanwhile, the third phase of India’s vaccination campaign is set to start on 1 May, but many fear that chaos will increase further since anyone above 18 can now get vaccinated. Before only those over 45 could.

What is more, vaccines will no longer be free. Hitherto, India’s federal government bought them from manufacturers at controlled prices. Now, for people under 45, individual Indian states or private hospitals will have to buy the doses at a higher price.

Some states have promised citizens that the vaccine will still be free. But many fear that the decentralised process will result in slower vaccine rollout and favour speculation at a time when India urgently needs to speed up its vaccination campaign.

So far only 10 per cent of the population or 147 million people have been vaccinated. But things have slowed down in the past two weeks because of shortages and practical problems associated with hospitals overwhelmed by new COVID-19 patients.

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