India Gasps For Air. All I Can Do Is Watch.

I woke up last Thursday morning, and instead of the motivational quotes I usually stumble across on my Instagram stories, I saw black screens that read out “URGENT!” in bold red letters. Two of them were from my kindergarten friends. They were both asking for plasma donations for their family members. My heart dropped. “Is this because of COVID-19?” I wondered to myself. I rushed to my living room and switched on the TV hoping to hear some good news. I started to panic as I read the headlines. A journalist sat in her office, reading from the teleprompter in a monotonous voice that COVID-19 is back, stronger than ever. I was disappointed hearing this, but not surprised at all. 

This past week has seen the rise of COVID-19’s second wave in India. India reported around 314,835 positive cases, and 2,014 deaths on April 22 – the highest global total, just in one day. The situation in India is worse than it has ever been before; only one thousand people tested positive this time last year. Almost every Indian’s social media timelines, including mine, are filled with reposts of people looking for plasma, hospital beds, remdesivir, fabiflu, crematoriums, spaces in burial grounds, and oxygen. Yes – oxygen. India is gasping for air, and all I can do is watch. 

On April 21, 24 patients that required oxygen at a hospital in Nashik, Maharashtra, died as an oxygen tanker leaked outside the hospital and was unable to get to them in time. These patients’ ability to survive was so close, but sadly, too far from their reach. “#IndiaNeedsOxygen” started trending on Twitter later that night, with various tweets scrutinising Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who granted the decision of doubling the export of oxygen to other countries earlier this year. Though this decision to export various medical resources aided in international trade relations, India’s current domestic state is paying the price, one citizen at a time. 

The current government is being criticised for their inaction in preparing for a second wave, which should have been inevitable looking at international trends. Large gatherings were encouraged in the country until the very last minute until states imposed partial and full restrictions. The Hindu reported around a week ago that the Kumbh Mela – a large religious pilgrimage expecting around 3.5 million people this year – saw 1,700 positive COVID-19 results in a span of five days. Not just religious, but political gatherings for West Bengal’s elections were also only cancelled two days ago. Economist Ramanan Laxminarayan commented on this for his opinion piece for the New York Times, stating that, “complacency and lack of preparation by the government [has] pushed the country into an unprecedented crisis.” The blame is not just on the government – it is twofold. People started to take advantage of the end of the first wave. India’s densely populated capital – New Delhi – started reporting less than 200 COVID positive cases in February, and instantly the “rule of three” of sanitizing, social distancing and wearing a mask was neglected by many. Laxminarayan believes that the “popular impatience to get back to earlier lives” also exacerbated situations even further. Hopefully cases will decline as people above 18 start to get their vaccines after the first of May, yet  the distribution and availability of these vaccines remains to be a question unanswered. 

Many people are currently feeling helpless in this situation. They are filled with guilt, shock, and remorse, watching the news or distracting themselves by watching IPL from the comfort of their living rooms. The uncertainty of COVID still looms over our head, though. The second wave is closer to home than ever before. Right now conflict, chaos, and confusion all lie in the air alongside COVID. But with it, there is also a collective sense of camaraderie within society. Various celebrities and social media influencers have taken to their large Instagram, Twitter and Facebook platforms to arrange and facilitate blood donations, hospital beds, and medication for those that require them. When government officials fail to get the job done, the general public are helping to save lives around the country. 

It is extremely overwhelming to look at news channels and absorb the influx of information that is available on social media, at least for me. It takes a huge mental toll in recognizing that there once was a soul and personality behind a death; they are more than a numerical figure on the screen. It is especially difficult to process this information whilst preparing and revising for exams and completing assignments. However, witnessing India’s second wave after somehow surviving its first has already given me an increased sense of appreciation for my surroundings. My utmost love and respect goes out to those who are currently working on the front lines to save lives. Reading some of their candid stories, particularly resident anesthesiologist Saandhra’s story (which can be found @officialhumansofbombay on Instagram), constantly helps me understand and reflect on the gravity of this situation. “It’s a privilege to stay at home,” she states. I can only hope that going forward that every person around the world -not just people in India- recognises that, abides by the rules, and continues to support and offer help to those in need. COVID-19 is sadly far from over, but  hopefully, this too shall pass. 

For those who are currently in India and require resources, here are some that are beneficial: 

– A resource list by The Uncut: 

– Mental health helpline: 1800-599-0019

Image: via Pixabay