Church Leaders Respond to India’s COVID Crisis | Catholic National Register
NEW DELHI – Church in India has joined in national angst over the exponential spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, amid widespread reports of underreporting of infections and deaths rooted in government complacency and the recklessness of the public.
India’s second wave of COVID infections accounted for 35% of the 820,000 cases reported worldwide on April 20, amid severe shortages of drugs, vaccines and even oxygen supplies that the government has generously exported despite The critics.
“The country has been too complacent and relaxed for too long. Now we are paying the price for this neglect, ”Archbishop Prakash Mallavarapu, chair of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) Health Care Commission, told the Register on April 20.
Contrary to widespread fears, COVID-19 infections had peaked at 93,000 cases by mid-September in India, with 1.38 billion people. Infections have declined steadily to 11,000 cases in February, with a daily death toll of less than 100.
However, infections soon began to rise sharply, with the daily count reaching 52,000 on April 1. In less than three weeks, it soared to more than 314,000 cases on April 21 – the highest one-day national tally on record since the start of the pandemic. Last year. And on April 20, the government’s Conservative tally of daily deaths crossed the 2,000 mark for the first time.
As this COVID-19 “tsunami” swept across the country, a chorus of protests erupted from opposition parties, advocacy networks and the media, challenging the government’s lack of forethought. One of the most important is a report of Time who accuses the BJP government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi of “floundering” in the face of the giant surge in cases. Another media account accuses the Indian government of engaging in ‘vaccine diplomacy’ by exporting more than 60 million COVID vaccines to 84 countries at the expense of Indian citizens as vaccination centers across the country are crippled by shortages of vaccines.
With a meteoric rise in infections, hospitals are being filled to capacity, leading to problems with bed shortages and deadly shortages of oxygen needed to save the lives of critically ill COVID patients. And like the situation with vaccines, media reports indicate that the government has allowed oxygen exports to escalate despite national shortages.
Meanwhile, 22 COVID patients died on April 21 from an oxygen leak in Nasik, western Maharashtra.
“There has certainly been a big gap on the part of the complacent government and the general public, paying little attention to the standards of social distancing as the state apparatus ignored the standards of enforcement,” Archbishop said. Mallavarapu, whose Archdiocese of Visakhapatnam is located in the state of Andhra on the east coast of India.
“ Abominable ” situation
Jesuit Father Cedric Prakash, an internationally renowned social activist based in the state of Gujarat, Modi, was much more sassy in his choice of words when asked about his reaction to the calamity that befell the country. nation.
“Absolutely appalling,” Father Prakash described the situation on the ground in Gujarat.
“Many die for lack of medical infrastructure. The necessary medical supplies are not available. Ambulances don’t come on time. There are huge lines of ambulances in the crematoria waiting for the corpses to be cremated, ”lamented the Jesuit priest.
Among more than two dozen Christians who have died from COVID in Gujarat, there were five of his fellow Jesuits, who died on April 17 alone. A week earlier, another prominent Jesuit, Father Varghese Paul, former president of the Indian Catholic Press Association and mentor to dozens of writers in Gujarat, also died of COVID at the age of 78.
“The government is blatantly lying about the official figures of the grim reality,” said Father Prakash, endorsing media reports revealing the underreporting of deaths in Gujarat and several other Indian states. “They minimize deaths and the number of people infected with the pandemic.”
While the government of Gujarat recognized only 78 dead on April 16, the national daily The Hindu reported the cremation of 689 bodies in just seven cities under the state’s COVID protocol, in an article titled “COVID-19 deaths in Gujarat far exceed government figures.”
“The situation is miserable here. Many are dying. I know a whole Christian family that has been devastated. One of our young bishops is also hospitalized with COVID, ”Bishop Chacko Thottumarickal from Indore, Madhya Pradesh state, central India, told the Register.
“Media reports here routinely dispute government death figures, with some networks disputing that the actual numbers are several times higher,” said Bishop Thottumarickal, former chairman of the communications office of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences. .
“All 60 beds in our hospital are full and we receive at least 200 admissions requests per day. What can we do? ”The bishop asked himself.
Indeed, underreporting of infections and deaths has become rampant in many states. As ambulances wait more than six hours to deposit corpses in crematoria, embarrassed state governments are erecting huge sheet steel walls to prevent photography of the unprecedented number of simultaneous cremations.
The government’s response to the pressing situation emerged when the High Court in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state with more than 220 million people, ordered the lockdown of five major cities in the State, a decision that was stayed by the Federal Supreme Court. at the behest of the ruling BJP government.
After news portal The Wire published an article titled “Varanasi: Cremation, Graves Show About 50% of COVID-19 Deaths Not Officially Recorded,” Prime Minister Modi called a senior meeting. officials of Varanasi, as he personally represents the Hindu Holy City in the Indian Parliament.
“Officially the death toll yesterday [April 19] was 10 years old in Varanasi. In reality, it is much more. The cremation grounds are overcrowded, ”said Father Anand Mathew of the Indian Missionary Society (IMS), which is based in Varanasi, where IMS is headquartered. “One of our dynamic young missionaries, Father Kiran, is gravely ill and many priests are ill.
“We have completed the first day of the blood donation camp to provide blood to COVID patients. We have two more such camps this week, ”added Father Mathew.
Not comparable to richer nations
“The tragedy unfolding here cannot be compared to Europe or the United States,” Archbishop Mallavarapu explained.
“Most of India’s people are poor and the government cannot just go for infinite foreclosure and enforce strict standards like European nations have. The previous prolonged foreclosure had made life miserable for the poor. The government has therefore relaxed the standards so that they can earn a living, ”said the Archbishop.
In fact, Modi reiterated this point in his address to the nation on the night of April 20, when he said that “we must save ourselves from another lockdown”, alluding to the economic misery this would inflict on the nation. nation.
However, according to Father Prakash, the primary responsibility for this unfolding calamity lies with the federal government of Prime Minister Modi.
Besides the reckless export of vaccines, oxygen and medicine, Father Prakash cited his inability to restrict unnecessary public gatherings.
“In March the government allowed huge crowds to watch the cricket match with England [in Gujarat], huge rallies for local elections and large crowds splurging at large wedding celebrations, ”he said. “Now the calamity is upon us.”
Registry correspondent Anto Akkara is based in Bangalore, India.