The devastating impacts of COVID-19 were felt by nations all over the world. However, India faced a uniquely extreme set of circumstances. Many saw the devastating photos of victims and patients in overflowing hospitals on social media. But what caused India, in particular, to be hit so hard? Lack of government support accelerated the detrimental impacts that India now has to grapple with now and into the future. It is this failure to support and provide solutions that are the main factors that contributed to the problems that India had to endure.

Surge Without Warning

As of July 2021, India has had a total of about 31.4 million cases of which 30.6 million have recovered. There have also been about 421 thousand reported deaths. Although India is a large manufacturer of vaccines, only about 6.8% of the population has been fully vaccinated. While the virus has been spreading consistently over the course of the pandemic, a surge of cases flooded the country in mid-March 2021. 

Just one month earlier in February, COVID-19 seemed to be under control as cases lowered and many seemed hopeful that the worst was over. Epidemiologists believed that the low case count was a result of widespread immunity, as “a significant proportion of the population, at least in cities, already [had] been infected.” The start of the vaccine rollout in January is also thought to have contributed to the relaxation of public health restrictions. According to epidemiologist Ramanan Laxminarayan, “there was a public narrative that India had conquered COVID-1.9. 

However, the middle of March brought a severe second wave with it. India was not prepared to handle the intensity of this outbreak, which contributed to the hospitalization and death of thousands across the country. 

The First Wave 

There are significant differences between the two waves and how they were handled. In India, the first wave was handled as it was in many other nations around the world: with strict restrictions and lockdowns in place. As a result, the first was significantly less intense, and its end led to early celebrations that the worst of the pandemic was over. However, the second wave was not given the same government priority and support that it needed.

Healthcare System Failure

During the second wave, the national healthcare system fell apart as many hospitals and medical facilities were largely unprepared for an unprecedented number of cases. Hospitals lacked resources, supplies, and space to house the number of infected people. A doctor described the scene as a “coronavirus tsunami.” COVID-19 variants also complicated the situation and doctors had to now find resources to combat these new variants. A variant that is related to the Delta variant called delta plus or AY.1 is said to have contributed significantly to the rise of cases in India.

ICU units were filled to the brim as more and more patients sought out medical help. Hospitals did not have oxygen tanks and beds to house the hundreds of patients that were in desperate need of medical attention. It is reported that many had to seek help from vendors that had supplies such as oxygen cylinders. 

These problems largely stem from the underfunding of healthcare. There is a world average of $1,110 in 2018 that is dedicated to health care per capita while India dedicates only $73. India’s states are responsible for their own healthcare systems, which results in a wide variation in the quality of care received. Even within each state, there is a disparity between the kind of help that people can get. There are private facilities with adequate resources and there are also government-owned facilities that do not offer help at the same level as the privately-owned ones. Many citizens are not able to afford the privately-owned hospitals and so they resort to the underfunded ones. These underfunded hospitals lack the space and resources to be able to take care of the vast number of patients coming their way. 

Lack of government support

While many different factors contributed to India’s COVID-19 crisis, the main reason was the lack of government support, control, and relief. The government offered no financial help and provided no solutions to the failing healthcare system and the states that cried out for help. Unemployment rates also soared through this period; it has been reported that over 10 million Indians lost their jobs during the second wave.

While the healthcare system was failing, Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not order any lockdowns and lifted most restrictions. Instead, states became responsible for implementing their own restrictions. These lockdowns are necessary to deter the spread of COVID-19, as the first wave had proven. 

Modi encouraged citizens to follow public health guidelines after the second wave had begun,  but continued to hold his own political rallies that thousands of people attended. Modi also allowed large religious gatherings to occur, which further contributed to the spread of the virus. 

With no government aid to help the citizens as well as the government not adhering to health care regulations and guidelines, the situation continued to escalate. 

Ongoing Economic Hardship on the Horizon

Major problems arose in India as well as many other countries of the Global South, which highlights how the pandemic has disproportionately impacted economically disadvantaged countries and people. As the pandemic took a severe toll on India’s economy and left citizens without jobs, many as a result have had less access to medical resources. 

As of now, the second surge has significantly calmed down. The situation is currently how it was back in February of 2021 when cases were under control. Since May, there has been a consistent decline in cases. There have been some lingering impacts that have affected the country. The once strong support that Modi had has now weakened as many are angry at his handling of the pandemic. To support the weakened economy, Modi has allocated a $266 billion package in “fiscal and monetary measures” but economists say that this amount will do very little to bring growth. Thus, the economy is still in a weakened state and will require more work to become strong once again. Had help been offered before and the situation taken seriously, India would not have fallen as severely as it did to the second wave.

Edited by Chelsea Bean

Tatheer Tariq

Tatheer is a Pakistani-Canadian political science student at the University of Calgary. Her main research interests include social justice, human rights, politics and diplomacy, mainly focused in the Global...