New Delhi: India “squandered” its early successes in controlling COVID-19 and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government could preside over “a self-inflicted national catastrophe”, international medical journal The Lancet said in an editorial on Saturday.
In a piece highly critical of the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the widely respected publication said the success of India overcoming the crisis will depend on PM Modi’s administration “owning up to its mistakes”.
“[PM] Modi’s actions in attempting to stifle criticism and open discussion during the crisis are inexcusable,” it said.
“India squandered its early successes in controlling COVID-19. Until April, the government’s COVID-19 taskforce had not met in months. The consequences of that decision are clear before us, and India must now restructure its response while the crisis rages,” the Lancet editorial said.
“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.
The journal called out the government for giving out the impression that India had beaten COVID-19 after several months of low case counts, despite repeated warnings of the dangers of a second wave and the emergence of new strains.
“Before the second wave of cases of COVID-19 began to mount in early March, Indian Minister of Health Harsh Vardhan declared that India was in the “endgame” of the epidemic,” it noted.
“Despite warnings about the risks of super-spreader events, the government allowed religious festivals to go ahead, drawing millions of people from around the country, along with huge political rallies-conspicuous for their lack of COVID-19 mitigation measures,” Lancet said.
Calling India’s vaccination policy “botched” and “falling apart” at the central level, the journal noted that the government abruptly shifted course without discussing the change in policy with states and has managed to vaccinate less than 2 per cent of the population.
“At times, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has seemed more intent on removing criticism on Twitter than trying to control the pandemic,” Lancet said.
“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, Modi’s government would be responsible for presiding over a self-inflicted national catastrophe,” it added.
India on Saturday reported its highest ever single-day COVID-19 deaths, as cases continued to rise and states imposed stricter lockdowns.
India’s health ministry reported 4,187 fatalities over the past 24 hours, taking the overall death count to just under 2.4 lakh. Cases rose by 4,01,078, increasing the total since the start of the pandemic to 2.19 crore.
Hospitals across the country have been overwhelmed by the crisis with patients and doctors left to begging on social media for oxygen, beds and other necessities.