The Lancet scientific journal has condemned the Modi government's handling of the second wave of COVID-19 that has overwhelmed hospitals and created acute shortages in oxygen supplies across the country in its editorial.
"…Before the second wave of cases of COVID-19 began to mount in early March, Indian Minister of Health Harsh Vardhan declared that India was in the "endgame" of the epidemic," says the editorial. "The impression from the government was that India had beaten COVID-19 after several months of low case counts…modelling suggested falsely that India had reached herd immunity, encouraging complacency and insufficient preparation…At times, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Government has seemed more intent on removing criticism on Twitter than trying to control the pandemic."
The Lancet also pointed out that the Centre's inefficient and confused response to ramp up vaccinations left states and hospitals competing for insufficient stocks and set back vaccination targets. In addition to this, religious festivals and other superspreader events had been allowed to occur despite many warnings, the editorial notes.
"India must now pursue a two-pronged strategy. First, the botched vaccination campaign must be rationalised and implemented with all due speed," Lancet recommends. "There are two immediate bottlenecks to overcome: increasing vaccine supply (some of which should come from abroad) and setting up a distribution campaign that can cover not just urban but also rural and poorer citizens, who constitute more than 65% of the population."
Predicting that India may reach the 1 million death mark by August 1, the editorial termed the rising death toll as a "self-inflicted national catastrophe" and accused the Modi government of being more intent on stifling criticism than ensuring transparency and advocating for safety measures to slow the spread of the pandemic. Timely release of data and figures, use of federal lockdown measures and an expansion in genomic sequencing of new viral strains were also needed to battle the pandemic.
"The success of [the effort to control the pandemic] will depend on the government owning up to its mistakes, providing responsible leadership and transparency, and implementing a public health response that has science at its heart," the editorial concluded.