Insightful newsletter of Drishtikone: Issue #288 - The Second COVID Spike Disaster in India
India is reeling under the second spike. The numbers and shortages are rising at an unprecedented pace. What has caused this? Time to look at the facts.
“Either you deal with what is the reality, or you can be sure that the reality is going to deal with you.” ― Alex Haley
The liberal world is strange. While it fights to the death for the right to equality, it keeps complaining about the government and pushing all responsibility to the bureaucrats. Taking no responsibility for what happens to them into their hands.
A country is made of people. Some are in the government. Some bureaucrats. Some businessmen and women. Some sportspeople. Some just ordinary.
But there are just people. People are politicians, sportswomen and men, business folks, and the rest of it.
What happens to the people in a country is dependent on how everyone responds.
One cannot simply push the onus to someone else and hope to have a good time. Such folks are no better than pigs. Only useful as bacon.
These times are dangerous, transformational and devastating - all at the same time. It is time we have facts with us so we can look at situations for what they are. Not as the spinmasters would like to twist them.
The Agendas and the Spike
On April 22nd, the Corona cases hit a new high in India. 314,835 new infections were reported yesterday breaking the earlier record of 314,312 recorded in the U.S. on Dec. 21.
Many ideological interpretations have been made on what is causing the rise in cases. Those who hate PM Modi and BJP are using this as a time to hit at him.
Rajat Mitra, author of ‘The Infidel Next Door’ writes in his blogpost on how many of the so-called journalists are rejoicing this calamity.
“This will surely put him in the dock. He will have a lot of explaining to do.” The glee in my friend’s voice, a professor was apparent while talking about the second wave of Covid19 facing us. She seemed high that the trouble for Modi has increased. She is not alone in this. There are many who today are less concerned with the spread of pandemic than how much trouble it will bring for Modi. What is the cause and origin of this vitriolic hatred for one man? That too when he is trying to deal with crisis after crisis facing the nation and exhorting everyone to rise and fight? The Covid19 pandemic that has shaken us to the core, threatening our existence pales in comparison to that hatred. It is puzzling that people like my friend express such opinions openly and feel no compulsion in expressing a pleasure that he is in trouble and discuss threadbare how it will increase his difficulties. It makes one wonder why a section of our society generate such gut level hostility when he has done nothing to them. (Source)
A lot has been done by this government. We are convinced that had Modi not been at the helm with his band of dedicated ministers, India’s situation would have been mind-bogglingly pathetic.
Many forces are at work against him and India. They will continue to spin every thing to their own ideological favor. But it is time we look at facts and wake up.
Mitra concludes in his very insightful blogpost on how Modi will be remembered by history.
How will Narendra Modi be remembered in history? Will he be remembered as a leader who awakened his people from a slumber, something no leader before him tried in India? The mocking, the satire, the ridicule that he faces every time he tries to bring changes, how will it be seen by history? I believe it will be remembered as the wail of a people who were blindfolded by slavery of a thousand years whom he tried to liberate from chains… (Source)
Today we wanted to look at the reasons for the spike and if the reasons sometimes furnished even seem correct?
The Second Coronavirus Spike
As we can see in this graph on the daily new cases, the spike really started sometime in February end.
The deaths started increasing rapidly somewhere in the mid-March timeframe, which makes sense as they lagged the new cases by a week or 10 days.
What was responsible for this increase?
Two main things have been asserted - Elections and Kumbh.
Evaluating reasons and timelines of the spike
Here is the election schedule (Source). The elections started at the fag end of March. And they will continue to the end of April in West Bengal.
Counting Day: May 2
West Bengal - 8 phases
First Phase: March 27
Second Phase: April 1
Third Phase: April 6
Fourth Phase: April 10
Fifth Phase: April 17
Sixth Phase: April 22
Seventh Phase: April 26
Eight Phase: April 29
Assam - Three phases
First Phase: March 27
Second Phase: April 1
Third Phase: April 6
Tamil Nadu - Single Phase - April 6
Puducherry - Single Phase - April 6
Kerala - Single Phase - April 6
The election rallies had started way back in late February onwards. So, it would stand to reason that these rallies would have contributed to the rise in the COVID cases in some way.
However, what is intriguing is that the top states for the cases are Maharashtra, Chattisgarh, UP, Karnataka, and Kerala. None of these states had election rallies back in February or early March.
The five states with the most number of active cases now are Maharashtra (5,66,278), Chhattisgarh (98,856), Uttar Pradesh (81,576), Karnataka (76,004), and Kerala (47,914) (Source)
And, this shows in the graph for the cases as well.
In terms of the Deaths to Confirmed Cases ratio, some states in India are outliers. First are the island states and UTs like Lakshadweep, Daman and Diu, and Andamans. Then the North-east ones like Assam, Arunachal, and Mizoram.
But the ones that seem suspiciously surprising are Kerala with a mere 0.39%, Bihar, Telangana, and Odisha. So the obvious question is - Are the death figures from these outlier states even correct?
In terms of Active Cases, the top states and UTs are:
Again, Tamil Nadu and Kerala went to the polls on April 6th. This shows that while the poll rallies would have had the potential to be super-spreaders, the real damage was done in states that did not go to the polls.
What about the Kumbh?
The Kumbha Mela - brought the crowds over to Haridwar area and it did have the potential to spread the corona virus through lack of social distancing norms as well as community bathing. The dates for the Kumbh Mela, however, were from April 1st onwards.
This year the Kumbh Mela will be held for a shorter span than previous years due to the Covid-19 pandemic situation. The Uttarakhand government has issued that the Maha Kumbh will be only 30 days. It will be organized from April 1 to April 30, 2021. The last Kumbh Mela was celebrated in Haridwar from Makar Sankranti i.e. January 14, 2010, to Shakh Purnima Snan, April 28, 2010. (Source)
If we check out the trends and charts for Uttar Pradesh, we will see that the inflection point was indeed from the first week of April onwards.
But Haridwar or the surrounding Saharanpur district are not amongst the top areas of Coronavirus spread in Uttar Pradesh by far.
If you check the top five areas - Lucknow, Prayagraj, Varanasi, Meerut, Kanpur, and Gorakhpur - they are far off from Haridwar where the Kumbh was being held.
So what was it that created this spike?
Even when we can see that elections and Kumbh Mela did not seem to have added to the spike in the areas that they would have impacted, their potential to become super spreaders cannot be ruled out. Whether they did impact or not should be clearly visible in the next 15 days.
Meanwhile, we will analyze the situation given the facts in hand.
The Second wave
It is now very clear that the second wave has been far more potent and dangerous than the first wave of COVID. The 7-day-rolling average shows this very clearly for the different intervals post the start of the waves.
Are more cases coming out because India is testing faster? Or in other words - is more data visibility the cause of more sense of misery? The answer is no. The level of testing has not changed that dramatically.
Right now, India has been detecting almost 2.5 times more cases than it was doing during the September peak. But it is not because of any increase in testing. The testing numbers are roughly at the same level as in September and October last year. But many more people are returning positive. (Source)
The spectacular rise is indeed a reality.
The Mutant Invasion
One thing that is different is the cock-tail of virus mutants.
Not one but multiple strains of COVID mutants have been found in the genomic sequencing of the virus detected.
The latest one to be discovered and said to be very dangerous is the “Bengal strain.” This may be contributing to rapid rise in the cases as well.
Covid-19 transmission in India is exploding at a rate unseen anywhere in the world so far. On Thursday, the country reported 3.14 lakh new cases, the highest single-day count for any country ever, and deaths too are mounting every hour. Amid this, a new variant of the virus causing Covid-19 has been detected in West Bengal. The 'triple mutant variant' (also being referred to as the 'Bengal strain' of Covid-19) is reportedly more infectious than other strains. Reports suggest that while this variant is predominantly circulating in West Bengal, it has also been detected in samples from Delhi and Maharashtra. (Source)
Prior to this multiple ‘double mutants’ had been found across the world, in including India.
The new mutants - the double mutants from other countries and now the triple mutant could have been the contributing factor. Those virus strains were also found in many other countries, including Australia, Germany, New Zealand, Singapore, the UK, and the US.
India’s health ministry first acknowledged the presence of a “double mutant” at the end of March, but has downplayed it since. While it’s a variant of interest, it “has not been stamped as a ‘variant of concern’ so as to say that it is more lethal or more infectious,” Aparna Mukherjee, a scientist at the Indian Council of Medical Research, which works under the nation’s health ministry, told Bloomberg TV (Source)
To be honest, the variants get formed due to regular mutations and are discovered by the scientists working on these pandemic situations regularly.
In total, Indian government laboratories have done the genome sequencing of 10 787 samples of SARS-CoV2 to look for variants, and found 771. (Source)
As late as the end of March, the COVID variants were spreading and having an impact. Although it is hard to say how big an impact it was.
As of now, it does seem that the new mutant strains have played a significant role in at least Maharashtra.
A rising number of double-mutant strain of SARS-CoV-2 is circulating in Maharashtra, the director of the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) confirmed on Wednesday. “Different kinds of mutations have been found in Maharashtra, but there is definitely a rising trend of double-mutant variants in several cities. This trend has not been noticed across the state,” Dr. Sujeet Kumar Singh, NCDC director, said. A senior official said over 60% samples from various cities in Maharashtra whose genome was sequenced were found to be of this particular double mutant variant. (Source)
The new mutations may very well be the “secret sauce” that has devastated the Indian population in the second round.
How go the Vaccinations?
India is the vaccine capital of the world (Source). Until April 21, 12.76 crore (127.6 million) Indians had been vaccinated with at least one dose.
The figures until April 7th were much less than what they are now. However, one can see that the fraction of the population that was fully vaccinated versus the population that has had at least one dose.
Only 0.04% of those vaccinated have contracted Coronavirus. So, the vaccine is a very good way to get this situation resolved.
The only issue is that given the population in India, the progress for full coverage is quite slow. Watch this excellent report from WION’s Palki Sharma Upadhyay on COVID.
India is where it is. Sad situation but it is one that is in many ways beyond anyone’s action. Mutations are tough to decipher and fight back and the world will see its impact as well.
But what is India doing to fight back?
The Ugly American establishment and the fightback
Meanwhile, the US, in its infinite wisdom had banned raw materials that go into making COVID vaccines and as of writing this, Biden’s establishment has not opened the exports up.
Adar Poonawalla, the CEO of world’s largest vaccine manufacturer - Serum Institute - has even personally tweeted to push the President of the United States - Joe Biden - to rise higher than petty politics.
But the guy feels slighted that a “third-world” country is supplying free vaccines in millions to the needy countries without a quid-pro-quo, taking a leadership position in this global crisis, while the US has not given any! So, what does the US government do? Shut down the hand that saves the world!
US president Joe Biden's spokesperson Jen Psaki has refused to say if the US will allow the export of Covid-19 vaccine raw materials to India, a shortage that could impact global supply or set a timeline for dealing with the requests for relaxing the vaccine patent rights. At her briefing in Washington on Monday, she sidestepped a question about reports that at a virtual meeting Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar the US had indicated that it was considering the request for lifting the ban of the raw material. She instead spoke about the reaction of US Trade Representative Katherine Tai to the request from India and South Africa for waiving the intellectual property rights for the vaccine, sounding optimistic. (Source)
This is not carelessness or petty even. It is downright ugly, cruel, tone-deaf, and criminal!
There is a major shortage of ventilators and oxygen (Source) So how does the Indian government respond?
Special Oxygen Express trains have been started. These trains are equipped with two engines - Electric Engine and a Diesel Engine. In case there is a blackout or power failure, the Diesel engine will keep the train running. The train’s goal will be met.
Notice that they have tankers loaded on them which will leave the train at different destinations to carry the oxygen to the hospitals in those areas directly. Minimum time spent in the process!
The Indian Army is pitching in the whole process as well.
Meanwhile, the government is seeking help from outside as well. 23 mobile oxygen generation plants are being airlifted from Germany.
With a major surge in the number of serving and retired military personnel being affected by the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Army is converting the Base Hospital in Delhi Cantonment into a 1,000-bed facility.
"It should be activated in a week, even as 23 mobile oxygen generation plants are being airlifted from Germany. These will be deployed in the hospital and provide adequate oxygen to the needy," said Army spokesperson Colonel Aman Anand. "A large number of oxygen concentrators are also under procurement," he added. (Source)
Tata Group, one of the largest business groups in the country is importing 24 cryogenic containers to transport liquid oxygen.
The Hindu religious bodies - like the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust is funding the construction of two oxygen plants in Ayodhya.
Some media outlets like NDTV, Moneycontrol, etc contribute by what they do best - peddle fake news. They have been reporting that India is “exporting oxygen while there is a shortage”. Except that the oxygen going out is Industrial Oxygen and NOT Medical oxygen.
Someone, please give them a beaker of Industrial water to quench their thirst for drama!
There is no doubt that situation in India is not great. But it is one that the country’s population can come out of - if they are wise, calm and patient. While the ideological and adversarial will keep showing it as the world is coming to an end. It is a time to fight back.
market corner: 10 quick bytes
Power Grid may launch landmark Rs 7,700 crore InvIT IPO on April 29, first ever by a PSU in India - more
CSIR lab develops technology to meet oxygen demand, minimize storage risks. The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research's (CSIR) Central Mechanical Engineering Research Institute (CMERI) has transferred the technology virtually to M/s Apollo Computing Laboratories (P) Ltd, Kushaiguda, Hyderabad - more
Credit Linked Capital Subsidy Scheme (CLCSS) - Small businesses supported in FY21 under technology upgradation scheme highest in five years - more
COVID-19 related disruptions raise concerns over NBFCs retail loans - more
MHA orders free inter-state movement of oxygen-carrying vehicles; PM Modi holds high-level meeting - more
French lingerie shops launch cheeky protest against national lockdown “we are essentials” - more
India needs $401 bn Capex to fight climate change: Report - more
PM Modi announces India-US 2030 climate partnership - more
Govt permits ICMR to conduct a study on using drones to deliver COVID-19 vaccine - more
Merger and acquisitions jump over 17 percent to USD 25.3 billion in Q1: Report - more
Emergency increase in Oxygen: Today, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was at the helm of a high-level meeting in order to tackle the issue of declining oxygen supply across the country. The officials at the meeting informed the PM about the efforts undertaken to improve oxygen supply, in addition to discussing ways to help boost its availability. In the meeting, the officials noted that over the last few days, availability of Liquid Medical Oxygen in India has increased by about 3,300 MT per day with contributions from private and public steel plants, industries, oxygen manufacturers as well as through prohibition of supply of oxygen for non-essential industries. (Source)
US Postal Office is spying on Americans: The law enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service has been quietly running a program that tracks and collects Americans’ social media posts, including those about planned protests, according to a document obtained by Yahoo News. The details of the surveillance effort, known as iCOP, or Internet Covert Operations Program, have not previously been made public. The work involves having analysts trawl through social media sites to look for what the document describes as “inflammatory” postings and then sharing that information across government agencies. “Analysts with the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) Internet Covert Operations Program (ICOP) monitored significant activity regarding planned protests occurring internationally and domestically on March 20, 2021,” says the March 16 government bulletin, marked as “law enforcement sensitive” and distributed through the Department of Homeland Security’s fusion centers. “Locations and times have been identified for these protests, which are being distributed online across multiple social media platforms, to include right-wing leaning Parler and Telegram accounts.” (Source)
Syrian missile goes through Israeli shield: Israel and Syria exchanged missile attacks early on Thursday morning after Damascus launched an advanced surface-to-air missile that landed in the Negev Desert. SA-5 flies from Syria all the way to the Negev in the longest-range attack yet by Syria; Patriot missile activated in response. Alarms sounded in Abu Qrenat near Dimona in the South. (Source)
WFH forever?: With the end of COVID-19 finally in sight, employers are probably counting the days until their offices reopen. However, a new survey finds they shouldn’t expect their workers to come flowing through the door — even after the pandemic. In fact, 58 percent of remote workers now say they would look for a new job if they can’t keep working from home. (Source)
Marijuana Millionaires: As the movement to legalize marijuana for medicinal and recreational use sweeps the country the cannabis industry is creating new jobs and raking in millions of dollars in legal profits. It is happening at multiple levels, from neighborhood dispensaries to the investment level. (Source)
video corner: Pakistan’s Dirty Theater
Mujra is very popular in Pakistan. Women are often forced to dance nude for their sponsors. The sexual frustration in that society is palpable in almost every sphere. Most so in the social mores.
The “dirty theater” is one such. Punjabi dramas and sex come together there. Watch this informative report.
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