India

The Truth About the Covid ‘Crisis’ in India

Now that Chile is settling down a bit, the latest Covid cautionary tale is India, which never seems to be out of the news at the moment as its positive cases and deaths have rocketed in the past few weeks.

Even the usually level-headed Kate Andrews in the Spectator has been painting the situation in lurid colours.

As it happened, the UK’s worst nightmares were never realised. The Nightingale hospitals built to increase capacity were barely used. But what the British Government feared most is now taking place elsewhere. India is suffering an exponential growth in infections, with more than 349,000 cases reported yesterday, as well as nearly 3,000 deaths. Hospitals are running out of oxygen for patients and wards are overflowing. There are reports of long queues as the sick wait to be seen by medical professionals. It’s expected the situation will deteriorate further before it gets better.

Jo Nash, who lived in India until recently and still has many contacts out there, has written a very good piece for Left Lockdown Sceptics putting the current figures in context – something no mainstream outlet seems to have any interest in doing.

Jo makes the crucial point that we need to keep in mind the massive difference in scale between India and the UK. At 1.4 billion people, India is more than 20 times larger than the UK, so to compare Covid figures fairly we must divide India’s by 20. So 2,000 deaths a day is equivalent to a UK toll of 100. India’s current official total Covid deaths of approaching 200,000 is equivalent to just 10,000 in the UK.

In a country the size of India and with the huge number of health challenges faced by the population, the number of Covid deaths needs to be kept in perspective. As Sanjeev Sabhlock observes in the Times of India, 27,000 people die everyday in India. This includes 2,000 from diarrhoea and 1,200 from TB (vaccinations for which have been disrupted by the pandemic). The lack of adequate hospital provision for Covid patients may be more a reflection of the state of the health service than the severity of the disease.

Jo Nash also points out that poor air quality plays a role.

Delhi, the focus of the media’s messaging, and the source of many of the media’s horrifying scenes of suffering, has the most toxic air in the world which often leads to the city having to close down due to the widespread effects on respiratory health…

Respiratory diseases including COPD, TB, and respiratory tract infections like bronchitis leading to pneumonia are always among the top ten killers in India. These conditions are severely aggravated by air pollution and often require oxygen which can be in short supply during air pollution crises…

According to my contacts on the ground, people in Delhi are suffering from untreated respiratory and lung conditions that are now becoming serious. I’ve also had breathing problems there when perfectly healthy and started to mask up to keep the particulate matter out of my lungs. I used to suffer from serious chest infections twice yearly during the big changes in weather in India, usually November/December and April/May. When I reluctantly masked up that stopped. My contacts have reported that the usual seasonal bronchial infections have not been properly treated by doctors afraid of getting Covid, and people’s avoidance of government hospitals due to fear of getting Covid. Undoubtedly, these fears will have been fuelled by the media’s alarmist coverage of the situation. Consequently, the lack of early intervention means many respiratory conditions have developed life-threatening complications. Also, people from surrounding rural areas often travel to Delhi for treatment as it has the best healthcare facilities and people can go there for a few rupees by train. This puts pressure on Delhi’s healthcare system during respiratory virus seasons.

Positive cases look like they may be peaking in many regions now.

U.K. Sends Medical Supplies to India to Aid Efforts against Covid

The U.K. Government is sending more than 600 medical devices – including ventilators and oxygen concentrators – to India as the country is suffering from a surge in Covid cases and a shortage of medical oxygen. BBC News has the story.

More than 600 pieces of medical equipment are being sent to India as the country faces a record surge of coronavirus cases, the U.K. Government has said.

The assistance package includes 495 oxygen concentrators – which extract oxygen from the air to give to patients – as well as ventilators.

India is seeing thousands of deaths a day amid oxygen shortages…

The first shipment of equipment will leave the U.K. on Sunday and is due to arrive in the Indian capital, New Delhi, in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

In total, the U.K. will send nine airline containers of supplies this week, including 495 oxygen concentrators, 120 non-invasive ventilators and 20 manual ventilators.

Local media reports say oxygen concentrators are in high demand in India, as they can meet some patients’ need for extra oxygen without adding to the strain on hospital oxygen supplies.

For the fourth day in a row, India has reported a record number of new infections, with almost 350,000 cases in the last 24-hour period and 2,767 deaths.

Many hospitals in Delhi are refusing to accept new patients because they cannot guarantee oxygen supplies. Oxygen tanks are being transported across the country, sometimes with a police escort, and flown in from nearby countries to meet demand.

The Prime Minister tweeted: “We stand side by side with India in the shared fight against Covid.”

The BBC News report is worth reading in full.

Stop Press: London mayoral candidate Laurence Fox has suggested that Britain’s surplus Covid vaccine supplies should be sent to India “now that 99% [of people in the U.K.] are protected”.

India Added to “Red List” over New Variant Concerns

India will be added to the Government’s “red list” for international travel as a “precautionary measure” after 103 people in the U.K. were found carrying the country’s Covid variant. From Friday, Brits coming from or through India will have to quarantine in Government approved hotels for 11 days, costing £1,750 per person (or £2,400 for two people sharing a room). Those who break these quarantine rules could face a fine of up to £10,000. The Guardian has the story.

India will be added to England’s travel “red list” from 4am on Friday, Matt Hancock has announced, as surge testing got under way to tackle a growth in cases of a coronavirus variant first discovered in the country.

The Health Secretary said that of 103 people in the UK who have so far been found to be carrying the Indian variant, the “vast majority” had links to international travel – suggesting at least some have been infected by community transmission.

He said scientists were working to see if the variant had any “concerning characteristics” such as being more transmissible or resistant to vaccines, but that in the meantime the move had been taken on a “precautionary basis”.

The decision means most travel from India will be banned, with only UK citizens and residents allowed to arrive from the country, and all those who do must quarantine in a hotel for 10 days.

Hancock admitted that the “biggest risk” to coronavirus restrictions being eased was a “new variant that the vaccine does not work as well against”, so surge testing would be rolled out “to make sure that we limit the spread as much as possible”.

Labour has (of course) supported the Government’s decision, with Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth saying that “we must act fast when the situation is controllable because in a few weeks time it might not be”.

The addition of India means there will be 40 countries on the Government’s travel “red list”, including parts of southern Africa and all of South America. While some have said that the Indian Covid variant could “scupper” Britain’s “roadmap” out of lockdown, others, such as JCVI member Professor Adam Finn, have said that this verdict is “pessimistic” because immunity from vaccines “won’t just disappear”. The announcement that India has been added to the “red list” came after the Prime Minister cancelled his trip to the country due to take place next Monday.

“I do think it’s only sensible to postpone, given what’s happened in India, the shape of the pandemic there,” he said.

The Guardian’s report is worth reading in full.

Indian Government Halting Vaccine Exports is the Cause of UK’s Rollout Slowdown

The approaching “significant reduction” in the UK’s supply of Covid vaccines is a result of a temporary export ban by the Indian Government, according to the Indian manufacturer of the AstraZeneca jab. The Telegraph has the story.

The United Kingdom’s vaccination efforts will be paralysed from next month because the Indian government is temporarily holding exports, according to the CEO of the Serum Institute of India (SII), Adar Poonawalla, whose company is manufacturing the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine.

“It is solely dependent on India and it has nothing to do with the SII. It is to do with the Indian Government allowing more doses to the UK,” Mr Poonawalla told the Telegraph, who confirmed that five million doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine had already been delivered to the UK in early March.

The second batch of five million further doses that the SII has pledged to the UK will only be delivered once the company is given the green light by New Delhi, which is deliberating how to slow a concerning resurgence in new daily Covid cases, according to a source.

In addition to debating whether to implement new localised lockdowns, the Indian Government is considering whether it needs to stockpile more vaccines to expand its vaccination programme, which has so far been limited to those over the age of 60 and those over the age of 45 with comorbidities.

British MPs’ criticism of the Indian Government’s alleged use of force against peacefully protesting farmers was not behind the delay, according to a source, with exports to other countries also being held.

The SII would still commit to delivering the remaining five million doses as soon as possible, a source told the Telegraph, and this commitment would not “take months”.

“There was never a commitment to supplying doses to the UK in any stipulated time. We just said we will offer our help,” said Mr Poonawalla.

Mr Poonawalla earlier this year warned that the SII’s vaccine exports would depend on its evolving domestic commitments in India.

Some are already warning that Britain’s return to freedom could be delayed by the slowdown of the vaccine rollout, but the case against this is strong.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: One in five over-80s in England are likely to have had both vaccine doses as of March 14th, according to NHS figures. Some 1.6% of people aged 75 to 79 are also estimated to have had both doses, as well as 0.8% of people aged 70 to 74.