Covid second wave: India diagnosis grim


BJ Arun is vice chairman, TiE Global, and former president of TiE Silicon Valley. The views expressed are his own.

The first wave of Covid-19 was dealt with severely by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with a nationwide lockdown which resulted in far fewer cases and deaths than was predicted for a densely populated country like India.  There was however a premature sense of ‘mission accomplished’, and the opportunity to utilize the blessing of relatively low devastation from the first wave to increase ICU capacity, improve supply chain for oxygen, boost vaccine production, etc, was squandered.

Citizens too played their part by letting their guard down and gathering in large numbers at social and religious events, as well as at political rallies attended by tens of thousands in the five different states.

There was overconfidence that Indians were genetically able to handle infections better than other nations.

The more virulent second wave is taking a very severe toll and it is heartbreaking to see the plight of people who are running from pillar to post trying to secure hospital beds, oxygen, and other life-saving drugs to help save their loved ones.

Various entrepreneurial organizations (including many of our TiE chapters) have stepped up to fund as well as source much-needed medical essentials such as oxygen and Remdesivir. Efforts are also underway by the experts in our Special Interest Groups to help quickly design and manufacture low-cost ventilators and oxygen concentrators.

There have been numerous high-level calls between PM Modi and President Biden, External Affairs Minister Jaishankar and Secretary of State Blinken, etc, which has resulted in the US committing massive resources ranging from mobile military hospitals with ICU capability, to life support equipment and financial aid.

The Indian diaspora has also successfully lobbied with the United States government to reverse the ban on the export of raw materials for vaccines, and also supply India with therapeutics, rapid diagnostic test kits, ventilators, and personal protective equipment.

The second wave is expected to peak by mid-May and the governments of the worst-impacted states will have no option but to declare another lockdown, since that seems to be the only way to check the uncontrolled spread of the virus.

The impact to the economy is going to be quite devastating since many small business owners who had barely managed to hold on during the first lockdown, will now get hit with a second (and in many cases) fatal blow.

I worry that those in the retail, hospitality, tourism, travel and related sectors may not survive another prolonged dry spell.

The plight of the migrant and daily wage workers, and the poor is even more desperate and dire since they may not even be able to afford food to survive this downturn. We may have a humanitarian crisis unfolding in front of our very eyes and unless immediate intervention in terms of both tactical and strategic support is extended by the private sector as well as wealthy nations worldwide, the impact on people’s lives and the economy could be catastrophic.