MS Risk Blog

India’s COVID-19 Pandemic Impacting Region

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India’s slow reaction to second wave of lockdowns, continuation of large gatherings despite rise in cases and the new variant has impacted the world. Since the end of March, Covid-19 cases and deaths have drastically surged in India. Why is that? And how has it affected the country and nearby international community?

Arguably, the first cause in the rise of cases and deaths is the new Indian variant. On May 10, the WHO classified it as a “variant of concern”. This is due to the fact that the new variant has “increased transmissibility demonstrated by some preliminary studies,” Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19 said. The new variant is still being tested, but so far according to the WHO the vaccine Covaxin, which is developed in India, appears capable of neutralising the variant. This is good for the future of India in handling the outbreak. However, India has a large population and still under 10% of the population has the vaccine. Additionally, India is the top exporter of vaccines in the world and many countries are relying on it for their vaccines and contracts and deals have already been made. This could slow down the delivery of vaccines in India even more.

The second factor for the drastic rise in cases and deaths is the continuation of large political rallies and religious gatherings at the beginning of April. Despite the cases rising at the beginning of April, Prime Minister Narendra Modi appeared in person at several political rallies in West Bengal, one of the jurisdictions voting that month. Due to political reasons Modi set a bad example and brought thousands of Indians into large gatherings, where the virus and new variant could spread. At the start of April, the government were unwilling to reimpose last year’s strict national lockdowns, due to economic reasons. However, the cases were rising and people has stopped following the social distancing guidelines and were continuing back to normal. Furthermore, on April 12th, the same week of massive increase of Covid-19 cases and deaths, and the banning of exportation of Remdesivir, Tens of thousands of Hindu devotees gathered by the Ganges River for special prayers, many of them flouting social distancing practices as the coronavirus spreads in India with record speed. Critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party say the festival has been allowed at a time when infections are skyrocketing because the government isn’t willing to anger Hindus, who are the party’s biggest supporters. Government critics have compared the government’s response to the festival to the response last year when Indian Muslims faced rising Islamophobia following accusations that an initial surge in infections was tied to a three-day meeting of an Islamic missionary group, the Tablighi Jamaat, in New Delhi. Days later the government announces lockdown restrictions and suggested that religious events should be more “symbolic” for the foreseeable future due to the rise in cases. However, these past large gatherings for political motives could’ve been the biggest cause to the now social and economic downfall in India.

The new variant and rise in Coronavirus cases hasn’t just had a national impact, but a global one. With the world being more globalised than ever before, the lack of response in one country, will affect neighbouring ones and even further afield ones too. The new Variant has been located in countries such as the UK, Brazil and South Africa. The neighbouring countries have been the hardest hit though. Nepal has seen cases surge and the deaths per capita has actually surpassed India’s this week. There are around 9,000 new cases per day and less than 10% of Nepalis are fully vaccinated. On top of that Nepal is relying on India for vaccines, but as the outbreak in India has worsen, it has stopped the exports of certain supplies and the AstraZeneca vaccine. Thus, Nepal is struggling to find other sources for the vaccine. This second wave of the pandemic could hit Nepal much harder due to this time the virus spreading rapidly to villages, where there is limited access to healthcare. The COVID-19 positivity rate is around 30% in Nepal’s capital city of Kathmandu, but as high as 65% in some more remote areas. Nepal isn’t the only neighbouring country that is suffering from India’s variant and slow response. The variant has been located in 44 countries around the world, making it a global concern. The pandemic has demonstrated how one countries action’s can directly mirror and impact another country, despite the large geographical distance between them. The world is increasingly getting smaller, which means the international system needs to work more closely together than ever before to combat global issues.