The situation is absolutely dire, say South Africans living in India
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Durban - South African and the world watched an unprecedented and horrifying surge of Covid infections and deaths in India this week, with another daily record rise in infections recorded yesterday and hospitals running out of beds and oxygen.
Yesterday, India’s death toll was more than 208 330, with the daily fatality figure on Thursday being 3 645 in 24 hours. Morgues and crematoriums have been overwhelmed by Covid deaths.
More than 18.7 million infections, with an average of 350 000 new infections being reported each day, have been reported in total. Yesterday 385 000 new cases ‒ a new global record ‒ were reported. It is believed mass public gatherings such as political rallies and religious events, along with relaxed attitudes, may have sparked the massive second Covid wave.
The people of India were in a state of shock about the second Covid wave which had engulfed them, said Enver Govender, who grew up in Durban and lives in Chennai. He is the editor of online magazine Chennai News.
Speaking to the Independent on Saturday, Govender said: “The feeling in the country is one of shock and disappointment with the authorities concerned for not learning from other countries and not being ready for the second wave.
“More than Covid, it seems the lack of oxygen supplies are killing people.
“The huge election rallies have no doubt contributed to the surge in numbers. Possibly the biggest mistake was allowing the Kumbh Mela (religious gathering) to take place where about 10 million people attended,” said Govender.
Yesterday, Capetonians Ronnie Kapoor and his wife Preeti, who were caught in lockdown in Delhi last year and are still there, described the situation as being “very, very bad”.
“The population, in general, thought Covid had left them and, to a large extent, stopped wearing masks. The surge here could be attributed largely to the fact the government gave the people the false impression that India had defeated Covid and put all activities back to normal.
“Never was it felt that there could be such a resurgence which came as a total surprise and the infrastructure was not prepared for it.
“This could happen anywhere, so best be prepared for the worst in advance and vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate,” said Kapoor, who confirmed Delhi and Mumbai were in lockdown.
Faizaan Mohammed, an Indian national living in Kempton Park on the East Rand and whose family are in Delhi, said he had barely been able to sleep this week.
“My family are not doing well at all. They are all experiencing flu symptoms, but are too scared to go to the doctors’ rooms and the hospital.
“Most people who go to doctors are dying, so my family has been avoiding that altogether. There are also rumours that the patients are having certain organs removed at hospitals, like their kidneys. My family won’t go to a hospital. They buy medicine at the chemist instead and take it home. They have no other option.”
Mohammed said he had been in daily contact with his family in Delhi, adding: “I am incredibly concerned because I am so far away and cannot help them.”
He said he felt heartbroken by what has been happening in the past week.
“It makes me very sad to see the news. My heart is breaking for my country and my people, but there’s not much I can do from here. It makes me feel very helpless. They are all I have.”
Another South African who lives in Delhi but who did not want to be named, said: “The situation in Delhi is incredibly bad. More than 50% of the population in Delhi has tested positive for Covid-19. “All hospitals are packed to capacity. There are people sitting in parking lots of hospitals waiting to be helped.
“All the wealthy people in India have moved out of the big cities. The wealthy ones stuck in the big cities are paying astronomical amounts for oxygen cylinders and medication. I have heard people are willing to pay $100 000 (about R1.4 million) for an oxygen tank. The hospitals are also prioritising politicians and their families. The situation is absolutely dire."
With reports of double mutant variations and a triple mutant variant driving infections in India, vaccinologist and dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Wits University, Professor Shabir Madhi, said there were at least three variants of concern circulating in India.
He also warned against counting on reaching “herd immunity“.
“India’s decision to relax protocols because they believed they reached herd immunity was poor political judgment at the expense of public health. The allowing of mass gatherings, including religious and electioneering, provide a perfect recipe for an explosion of cases,” said Madhi yesterday.
On the mutations, he said the “concept of a triple mutation is not very meaningful, as there are hundreds of mutations likely to take place in the virus ‒ most of which will not be clinically relevant”.
“The concern is related to mutations that allow the virus to become more transmissible (for example B.1.1.7), and/or more virulent (for example possibly B.1.1.7), or more evasive to immunity induced by infection from ancestry virus or first-generation Covid vaccines (for example B1.351),“ said Madhi.
Explaining double mutant variants, he said: “This refers to mutations that are associated with the virus being more adept at infecting humans and being more transmissible, as well as mutations that make the virus partially evasive to immunity due to ancestry virus or current first-generation Covid vaccines. This is currently the case in India.”
He added that while it was possible other mutations could surface in South Africa, “most, if not all of the vaccines, are likely to still confer protection against severe disease”.
Madhi said South Africans could not afford to become complacent, and warned that a third wave was “ being experienced in the Northern Cape, the North West, and Free State in SA, and likely that will start emerging elsewhere”.
He said the timing of a third wave was dependent on multiple factors, such as human behaviour and going into winter, people were more likely to gather indoors.
“The main focus of vaccination needs to be targeted at preventing hospitalisation and death, which all the vaccines will likely do quite well,” said Madhi, highlighting that, “it’s highly unlikely that we will reach the so-called ’herd immunity’ threshold anytime soon in SA."
Yesterday, South African relief organisation, Gift of the Givers, called on “humanity to respond” to the Covid disaster in India.
Gift of the Givers director Imitiaz Sooliman said they would be helping the stricken nation.
“The world is watching a catastrophe unfolding in India, a Covid-19 tsunami has struck the country and the official figures are nowhere near the real tragedy, insiders affirm.
“The pictures, as graphic as they are, can never adequately convey the emotion, pain, suffering and desperation. Living inside a disaster is very different to observing it. If observing it from a distance is horrific, imagine living in it.
“The request is simple: we need oxygen and oxygen delivery devices, we have everything else,” said Sooliman. ‒ additional reporting: Jolene Marriah-Maharaj/IOL
Independent on Saturday