India COVID-19 deaths could touch 1 million by August: Lancet

The medical journal said PM Modi’s government would be responsible for presiding over a ‘self-inflicted national catastrophe’.

India's COVID-19 deaths rose by more than 4,000 for a second consecutive day on Sunday as calls for a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the virus mounted [File: Adnan Abidi/Reuters] (Reuters)

COVID-19 deaths in India could potentially reach a “staggering” one million by August 1 this year, an editorial published in medical journal the Lancet said citing an estimate by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation – an independent global health research centre of the University of Washington.

“The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates that India will see a staggering 1 million deaths from COVID-19 by Aug 1. If that outcome were to happen, [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi’s government would be responsible for presiding over a self-inflicted national catastrophe,” it said.

India’s health ministry reported on Sunday 4,092 fatalities over the past 24 hours, taking the overall death toll to 242,362. New cases rose by 403,738, just shy of the record and increasing the total since the start of the pandemic to 22.3 million. India has seen 10 million cases in the last four months.

New Delhi has struggled to contain the outbreak, which has overwhelmed its healthcare system, and many experts suspect the official death and case numbers are a gross underestimate.

The journal said that the government’s COVID-19 task force had not met in months until April – when the virus spiked.

Earlier this month, Reuters reported that a forum of scientific advisers set up by the government had warned Indian officials in early March of a new and more contagious variant of the coronavirus taking hold in the country. Four of the scientists told Reuters that the federal government did not seek to impose major restrictions to stop the spread of the virus despite their warnings.

The government allowed Hindu religious festivals participated in by millions while Prime Minister Modi, leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and opposition politicians held political rallies for regional elections. These events, experts said, turned out to be “super-spreaders”.

The editorial called on the Indian government to adopt a “two-pronged” strategy to fight against the epidemic by speeding up nationwide vaccination and reducing transmission of the deadly virus.

“The success of that effort 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,” it said.

‘More transparency’

The medical journal said that Modi’s attempts to stifle criticism were “inexcusable”. “At times, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has seemed more intent on removing criticism on Twitter than trying to control the pandemic.”

India has been hit hard by a second COVID-19 wave with cases and deaths hitting record highs every other day. With an acute shortage of oxygen and beds in many hospitals, and morgues and crematoriums overflowing, experts say the actual numbers for COVID-19 cases and fatalities could be far higher in the country.

On Saturday, the World Health Organization’s chief scientist told AFP news agency that the B.1.617 variant of COVID-19, which was first detected in India last October, was clearly a contributing factor to the catastrophe unfolding in the world’s second-most populous nation.

“There have been many accelerators that are fed into this,” Soumya Swaminathan, 62, said, adding that the new variant may be dodging vaccine protections.

Many Indian states have imposed strict lockdowns over the past month, with the capital New Delhi extending it on Sunday, to stem the surge in infections while others have announced restrictions on public movement and shut down cinemas, restaurants, pubs and shopping malls.

The pressure is mounting on Modi to announce a nationwide lockdown similar to the one imposed during the first wave last year.

Support has been pouring in from around the world in the form of oxygen cylinders and concentrators, ventilators and other medical equipment for overwhelmed hospitals.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies