Towards the end of 2020, Indian cricket team was playing test cricket in Australia. It played the first innings of the first test well. In the second innings, however, India collapsed for 36 runs and lost the test match. The current second wave of the Covid 19 virus in India has resulted in such a disaster. While there is finger pointing all around, with experts commenting on what went wrong, a dropped catch here, a run out there, I am cautiously optimistic about the future.
Criticism has poured in from all corners of the country as well as the world on how the government handled the crisis. Regardless, I will try to be as unbiased as possible in my comments. India played the first innings really well. With PM Modi’s initial lockdown arresting the spread of the virus. Towards the beginning of 2021, the number of cases came down drastically. And the mass vaccinations started. That is where India lowered its guard. Then the second wave stuck with a vengeance, catching the nation off guard.
During the great performance in the first innings, makeshift hospitals were created, medical equipment like masks for doctors and the ventilators were built on a scale. All these came off when the guard was lowered. When the medical opinion swung in favor of treatment using oxygen instead of ventilators, the oxygen logistics got highlighted. As soon as the oxygen shortage started emerging, hoarding started. And the mad rush to divert the scarce resources their way became the norm.
What caused the strong second wave ? There is a lot of speculation. Maybe a combination of several factors. The farmer’s agitation near Delhi, the largely maskless Kumbh mela at Haridwar, unmasked crowds in a cricket stadium in Gujarat, election rallies in states. And probably general attitude of complacency after a long and protracted confinement indoors.
The lowering of the guard could also be blamed for the vaccine logistics. Lot of dependence on SEI (Serum Institute of India) which invested its own money to start the production. No government bulk contracts or investment or financial aid was given to the company. While vaccine diplomacy is laudable, in competing with China, to gain influence in other countries which do not have vaccine manufacturing capabilities, millions of doses were given away. Leading to wide scarcity of vaccines. People’s negative attitude towards indigenously developed vaccine Covaxin and the Russian vaccine Sputnik V did not help either. Both of them are good enough. In any case, the current doses are only for us to get our foot into the door. More shots will be needed in the future anyway.
When the tragedy started unfolding, finger pointing started happening. It was the opposition parties, it was the media, particularly the western media. India, like China, is an ancient civilization with a lot of heritage. As a consequence it is sensitive to criticism coming from outside. The US government was blamed for not supplying the raw material for vaccine production. I am not supporting the US position, which all along said that her citizens are her first priority. The key question is when was the raw material ordered ? When was the contract signed with US companies ? Does not seem like until March, which is too late in the game anyway. It is a moot point now. The US government has already released the raw materials a few weeks back.
The US played the first innings really bad. It came back to play a very good second innings.President Trump was part of the first innings disaster. But to his credit, in spite of all other fallacies, he planned well for signing contracts with vaccine manufacturers ahead of time. He funded the Moderna vaccine in return for guaranteed supplies. Very aggressive logistics were put in place. President Biden ensured that he implemented the rollout with near flawlessness.
India assumed herd immunity has been achieved due to lowering of cases happening earlier this year. I for one questioned that assumption. Herd immunity can only be achieved if at least 70 to 80% of the population is vaccinated or has been exposed to the virus. It was unreasonable to expect such a large percentage being exposed to the virus. And the vaccination rate was miniscule.
India did not utilize its IT (Information Technology) prowess in setting up war rooms and digital dashboards to track the logistics and cases. It has reacted lately in doing so. Regardless, all is not lost. I dont want to spell doom and gloom. Things are likely to get better, in fact, a lot better.
States can be blamed and so can the local administrations. But the main blame rests squarely on the shoulders of PM Modi. He could have done better. I dont want to judge the capabilities of a person based on one disaster. He did well in a lot of other situations. In this innings, he scored a zero. Like one zero does not define a Virat Kohli, but if that zero comes in the most important match of his career, it does have some impact.
Continuing with the cricket test series in Australia, India came back to win two test matches and sealed a historic series win down under. If the cricket team can recover from a perfect storm, so can the nation. The current disaster will pass. I am cautiously optimistic that months ahead will be good. But the lessons learnt should stay with us for the rest of our lives. The match is not over until the last ball is bowled.
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