Coronavirus: As infections break records, scientists say government ignored warnings
Indian officials had been warned about a more contagious variant of the coronavirus in March, scientific advisers reportedly said. India reported 3.92 lakh new infections on Sunday, a marginal dip from a record spike of 4.01 lakh new cases. The country also recorded its deadliest day with 3,689 fatalities. Experts surmise that the second wave is deadlier and more contagious due to mutant variants.
According to Reuters, a forum of scientific advisers set up by the government had warned officials about a more contagious variant of the virus in March. India's second wave had notably started picking up pace late February and the nation has added 80 lakh infections since then. Despite the warnings, huge gatherings continued. Elections were held in five states, coupled with massive poll rallies.
The government also allowed the weeks-long Kumbh Mela in Haridwar, Uttarakhand, which was attended by millions of people starting mid-March. Tens of thousands of farmers also camped on the outskirts of Delhi to protest against the new agricultural laws.
Reportedly, the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genetics Consortium (INSACOG) had raised alarm about the new variant, B.1.617, in early March. Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba, who reports directly to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was alerted about the variant, one of the scientists, the director of a research center in northern India, told Reuters. Some scientists said the surge cannot be blamed on political leadership alone.
Reportedly, National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) director had told a private online gathering on April 19 that stricter lockdown measures were needed 15 days before (early April). The week before, the National Task Force for COVID-19—chaired by VK Paul, Modi's top coronavirus adviser—had also called for urgent action. On April 20, in a national address, Modi strictly opposed lockdowns.
During the address, Modi asked state governments to use lockdowns only as a last resort. He had said that we need to save India from a lockdown. Notably, last year's two-month-long national lockdown has left millions unemployed and crippled the economy.
According to the Union Health Ministry, till Sunday morning, India reported a total of 1,95,57,457 COVID-19 cases. The death toll has reached 2,15,542. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 1,59,92,271 patients have recovered, while 33,49,644 cases involve active infections. In the past 24 hours alone, India recorded 3,92,488 new infections and 3,689 fresh fatalities. 15,22,45,179 vaccine doses have been administered so far.
Maharashtra—India's worst-hit state—reported 63,282 new cases. The state conducted 2,89,006 tests and the positivity rate remained a high 21.9%. The cumulative number of infections has now climbed to 46,65,472, which includes 6,63,758 active cases. Maharashtra's tally has more than doubled since late February. The state also reported 802 more fatalities which pushed the death toll to 69,615.
Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Odisha, Assam, Jammu and Kashmir, and Puducherry were among the states that reported a record surge in infections. The COVID-19 situation also remains worrisome in Kerala, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Chandigarh, Sikkim, and Lakshadweep. Several states/UTs have imposed restrictions including Maharashtra, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, among others.