The resignation of reputed virologist Dr Shahid Jameel from the post of chairman of the scientific advisory group of the forum known as INSACOG (Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genome Sequencing Consortia), has hit headlines. INSACOG was formed in last January by the Central government as part of Covid prevention efforts, and was mainly intended to study the variants of Covid-19, which were eating into the health of the population, and recommend remedial measures. His immediate response to queries on why he had resigned was that was not bound to cite reasons and he did not have anything to say. But 'circumstantial evidence' indicates that the resignation resulted from the Centre's bungling of the Covid crisis, that has pushed the country to a very serious crisis. And Dr Jameel's quitting comes only a week after he wrote an article in the New York Times pointing at the failures of the Modi government in handling the Covid crisis. INSACOG had warned in last March that in the second wave of Covid, the variant of the virus would cause an intense spread of the disease in such a way that things would get out of hand. His article in New York Times contained shocking details of how the recommendations of a report, submitted directly to the Prime Minister's Office, were ignored. And now that the resignation comes close on the heels of that, the background is more or less clear.
As per official statistics, Covid has affected nearly 2.30 crore people and killed 2,54,000 in India. But taking figures from crematoria and about dead bodies located in rivers including Ganga and lakes, foreign news media and agencies say that the actual toll would be two to five times the official version. The chief virologist says that as early as the onset of the new year, there were indications that matters were moving to this tragic level. In the INSACOG study that put together date from the chief laboratories of the country, an India variant of the virus called B.1.616 had already been detected in December itself. Another more transmissible and infectious variant B.1.1.7 had emerged in Britain too. This reached India via international passengers in January. Even as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and international experts were giving warnings about this, our government leadership were consoling themselves citing British variant and its transmissibility. Most major studies by those including Indian Scientists Response to Covid-19 a forum of scientific experts, Cov Ind 19 Study Group of Michigan University, USA, and even the SUTRA group modelling held in high esteem by the Central government, had all pointed out that that the daily caseload of India would reach 5/8/10 lakhs per daily by middle of May. An end to the second wave can be expected only in July. The pace of the third wave and spread would depend on how big super-spreader events ranging from wedding functions to religious and political rallies would be. The Test Positivity Rate (TPR) now seen in the country in general, and in different states in particular, gives no cause for comfort. The main reason is that tests are not conducted as effectively as they should be. The increase in TPR in Kerala would bear this fact out.
Even the vaccination drive did not catch on as was touted. When the vaccination was started in mid-January, it had targeted 300 million people. But two months into the drive, only one percent of the population has been administered the vaccine. India can achieve the goal of community immunity only when 60 percent of the population has received vaccination. And this when the statistic stands that 40 percent of the world's vaccine is supplied by India. When the second wave is transforming India into a field of death, those who have received at least one dose of the vaccine form a mere 2.4 percent of the population. All scientists and expert bodies are unanimous that only with increased testing, vaccination and hospital facilities can the country tide over the tragedy.
The body chaired by Dr Shahid's had highlighted all the facts above in its recommendations submitted in early March that programmes that cause crowding should be stopped and preventive measures accelerated. The committee apprised none other than the Cabinet Secretary who reports directly to the prime minister, of the situation. However, apparently with an eye on the assembly elections, all these facts and suggestions were ignored. The prime minister, central ministers and politicians of all hue and colour threw all Covid protocol to the wind and pulled mobs out on the streets. They facilitated the gathering of lakhs of people in Kumbh mela. The prime minister cautioned that lockdown mechanisms were the last weapon for the states to use. Thus, the government refused to formulate policies based on evidence and logic. Not stopping there, and as if to challenge that approach, the government moved in just the opposite direction. On April 30, 903 scientists had submitted a signed a memorandum to the prime minister to help the scientific community, who were always ready for a resolution to the crisis by integrating the health statistics. But what attention for data and document to expect from a regime that has abandoned scientific temperament? When there are eminent personalities like Vijay Rupani, Manohar Lal Khattar and Yogi Adityanath who prescribe panchagavya therapy made up of cow dung, cow urine and oxygen from cow for Covid treatment are there to teach theories, of what avail is scientific expertise? Therefore, in Modi regime, science and rationality are a strict no-no.