While the United States appears to be recovering from the pandemic, our world as a whole has not yet escaped it. In stark contrast, India is overwhelmed by an exponential rise in coronavirus cases, as a “double-mutant” strain ravages the country. The World Health Organization addressed the situation as “beyond heartbreaking”: oxygen supplies are low, hospitals are overflown, and only 2% of India’s population is vaccinated.
India is experiencing the highest number of new cases a day in the world: by May 4th, a staggering 20.2 million cases and 222,408 deaths were reported. As high as these numbers are, experts agree that India’s cases and deaths have gone massively undercounted, some estimating the actual number of cases to be 10 times the reported amount.
This massive undercount is due to a lack of testing and medical attention in rural areas. While the US distributes 17 tests per confirmed case, India is only able to distribute 5. Further, 70% of India’s overall deaths occur in rural India, where there is a significant lack of medical attention. Consequently, coronavirus-related deaths in those areas oftentimes go uncounted. Without having a way to gauge the true magnitude of the situation, authorities cannot accurately plan a response to the crisis.
With the Indian healthcare system overwhelmed, many die before they can get medical attention. For those who are admitted into a hospital, conditions in hospitals have significantly worsened. Some hospital beds are made of cardboard. Many patients do not get a bed at all. Additionally, patients report that they get little to no attention from doctors once admitted, and hospitals are struggling to get oxygen supplies and medicine for patients.
Why is the virus spreading so fast? When interviewed, Dr. Frank Rhame explained that living quarters are very crowded in India, making social distancing impossible. The Indian government also reopened the country in the middle of an election, allowing for large political gatherings. Dr. Anthony Fauci strongly recommends the Indian government enforce another lockdown to reduce the spread.
Concerningly, the rapid spread of coronavirus in India provides an opportunity for variants to develop and mutate, endangering the rest of the world. Dr. Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, put it simply: “If we want to put this pandemic behind us, we can’t let the virus run wild in other parts of the world.” And experts say that Biden’s India-US travel ban will not do much to stop new variants from reaching the US.
The U.S., Canada, Singapore, Britain, and Australia have all pledged to provide medical supplies to India. However, many criticize wealthy nations for “hoarding vaccines”, and argue that the US should quickly waive patent rights on vaccines. Ultimately, countries ought to help their neighbors instead of solely focusing on their own recovery.