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South African media discuss The Probe’s Covid report

South African radio station Power 98.7’s Thabiso TT Tema speaks to The Probe’s Founder Prema Sridevi on Covid situation in India

By The Probe
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Thabiso Tema: I did see the video report you put together on The Probe about the unfolding situation in New Delhi. It is absolutely extraordinary. How are the Indian authorities dealing with the situation? How is it being referred to in India, in South Africa, we are anticipating the third wave. Where are you in terms of the pandemic in India? 

Prema Sridevi: Well, in India we are calling this the second wave. The numbers that we are talking about here are really staggering. For instance, in the last one day alone India recorded over 3.5 lakh Covid cases. The total infections have gone over 1.73 crores. The death toll has now reached 1.95 lakhs, which is close to 2 lakhs. These are just the recorded figures. What about infected people who are dying in their own homes? What about their numbers? No one is really keeping track of that. In fact in Delhi, there are numerous testing centres but most of them are overwhelmed with increasing numbers of people who are getting their tests done. So, for the rest of the people, testing is virtually impossible and this is resulting in further complications. The government here has also come under attack for its handling of the situation. The ruling party, the BJP has been busy doing election rallies. Why blame the BJP alone, the opposition parties have also been busy doing election rallies for elections that have been held in 5 States in India. All this was happening in the midst of the second Covid wave. Here in India, many people feel that being so careless at such a sensitive time perhaps might have aggravated the problem.

Thabiso Tema: So this is more a reflection of a certain complacency that has crept into the Indian society and led by the Government also which was allowing these rallies but is it also not because of the particular variant? We discovered what I think now is being called as the South African variant across the world, which has turned out to be a lot more infectious. What about the Indian variant? 

Prema Sridevi: Absolutely. The Indian variant is supposed to be very potent and far more dangerous than what we saw last year. On the ground, the situation is very concerning. In fact the World Health Organisation Chief had recently said that the situation in India is beyond heartbreaking but I would just say that the situation in India cannot just be described in words. For instance, yesterday I visited a cremation ground in Delhi. At one point, I was standing in the middle of the cremation ground with over 30 Covid dead bodies being burnt around me and there were many more dead bodies waiting for their turn to be cremated. This was the case with regard to one cremation site in one part of Delhi. Now you can imagine what the macro situation is. We spoke to cremators who told us that they Are completely overwhelmed by the rush of bodies. In fact we also spoke to people who fetch wood for these cremations and they told us that they are running short of wood to cremate the dead. On the good side, the government has announced that from May 1st all adults in India will be eligible for vaccination, which literally makes India one of the first countries to allow all adults to seek a vaccine against the virus. This will be one of the largest vaccination drives in the world. Everything depends on how well this vaccination drive is implemented. When it comes to vaccination here, the onus is also on the respective State governments. Some State governments have already announced that they will give free doses from May 1st. The vaccination drive brings in a lot of hope but then again vaccinating a country with a 1.3 billion population is not easy. It comes with its own set of challenges. Think about it this way, your country’s population is around 59 million, India’s population is 1300 million and you can imagine what it is like to carry out a successful vaccination drive in such a populous country.

Thabiso Tema: India is one of the world’s leaders in vaccine production. Which vaccine will be rolled out across the country? 

Prema Sridevi: Right now, we have access to Covaxin, we also have Covishield. Very soon, we will also get access to Sputnik V, which is the Russian vaccine and what is overwhelming is several countries have come forward to support India. In fact, very recently, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to US President Joe Biden and thanked him for all the assistance the US is providing in India’s fight against Covid. In fact, the US has dispatched around 5 tonnes of oxygen concentrators and they have promised to further help India in the coming days. Several countries including Britain and Germany have pledged to send help to India. One of the High Courts in India, the Madras High Court very recently observed that the Election Commission of India should be put up for murder charges for being one of the most irresponsible institutions in the last so many months as the Election Commission has not been able to stop these political parties from holding these rallies during the thick of the Covid second wave. These are observations from a court in India.   

Thabiso Tema:  Is the lockdown just confined to the national capital Delhi alone? One of the things that is also being said is that India cannot afford another nationwide lockdown. Is this also perhaps making the situation difficult?

Prema Sridevi: Yes, In fact, the place where I am residing, which is Noida in Uttar Pradesh, there is a partial lockdown. In Delhi there is a lockdown. Lockdown has also been announced in Karnataka. In fact, each State government is taking a decision with regard to lockdown in their respective States. Having said that, the government has been very clear so far that as this point they cannot afford a nationwide lockdown. The government here is also launching awareness campaigns on how it is important for people to remain indoors because there are numerous testing centres across the country but it's overcrowded. So, when people have symptoms, the government is advising them to treat their symptoms seriously and remain indoors to contain the spread.

(To listen to the full conversation, click here)
(To listen to the original podcast, click here)