(This is the perspective of a non-Indian resident over the current situation in India)
COVID-19 brought unpredictable changes worldwide, restricted domestic and international travel and severely impacted economies and industries all over the world. Nevertheless, 2020 brought a general sense of hope that the following year was going to be smoother in multiple spheres: there was an effective vaccine being developed, restrictions were being lifted, and the number of cases was controlled in multiple countries.
However, the relative “relief” felt by many brought severe consequences for most European countries, with a peak of new cases attained in January, bringing renewed emergencies, crowded hospitals and panicking people. The situation was worse than ever before, especially in my home country, Portugal. Scientists were calling it a “second wave”, but it soon turned out to be more than that: a new variant from the virus – the UK variant – was already widespread in the country, leading people to be more susceptible to an aggressive infection of COVID-19. This was a sharp call for European countries not to sooth their measures, and to keep restricting people to move and gather, since the virus was mutating and becoming deadlier, eventually leading to a third wave in March of 2021. Despite vaccines were being administrated, there was a long path to walk towards the containment of the virus, and people seemed to be behaving like the pandemic ended – as it is currently happening now in Portugal.
In late April 2021, India was beginning to face one of the most severe stages of the pandemic, named as the country’s second wave. In order to analyze it, there must be acknowledged that in India, any stage of the pandemic has a more complex development than in any other country in the world. The territory size, the population, and the unequal access to quarantine and self-isolation in the most densely populated parts of the country, all aggravate the ability to contain a tremendous health crisis such as COVID-19.
Prior the first lockdown, India did not testify a severe number of new cases, as it was observable in many European countries. However, when the restrictions began to lift, India saw an increase of new cases such as it happened in Europe: the apparent control over a very uncertain and mutable virus, without a significant percentage of group immunity, led to the lifting of restrictions, and the public perception that the virus has been contained. This was severely aggravated by the political reinforcement that COVID-19 was over, and India has triumphed the global, deadly battle against COVID, which was perceived as many as a motive for celebration without any precautions.
The political factor plays a significant role in the increase of new cases, due to the permission given to festivities that were conducted throughout the months of March and April, besides the political rallies, religious celebrations were held, and the overall sense that COVID-19 was over, highly spread by the PM Narendra Modi. However, a new mutation emerged, and compromised all the progress testified by India in the past months, leading to an exponential growth of infections and deaths, and the collapse of the healthcare system, especially in the most densely populated areas such as New Delhi and Mumbai.
Besides the horrifying scenario that India has been facing regarding the management of a second wave, aggravated with a new mutation of the virus, the political dissatisfaction that has been intensifying for the past few years, and the Modi government, that has been questioned about its effectiveness towards the current health crisis. The government priorities have been shown to differ from many other countries, despite India is not an isolated case regarding the lifting of restrictions and sense that the pandemic is over. Once again, the COVID-19 brought to light convergences and differences, not only among international actors but domestically as well. The Indian people are under the deadly circumstances of a global pandemic, an aggressive variant of the virus, and the existence of convergent political interests. India will endure this new historical chapter, despite the devastating consequences that are yet to be accounted.