New Delhi: After devouring country’s big cities, the latest Covid-19 wave is now wrecking havoc in rural India, most of which are not fully equipped to fight such pandemic.
In Basi, about 1.5 hours from the national capital New Delhi, about 5,400 villagers are sick and more than 30 have died in the past three weeks. It has no health-care facilities, no doctors and no oxygen canisters. Unlike India’s social-media literate urban population, residents can’t appeal on Twitter to an army of strangers willing to help.
As per the newly elected head of the farming community, Sanjeev Kumar, “Most deaths in the village have been caused because there was no oxygen available.” “The sick are being rushed to the district headquarters and those extremely sick patients have to travel about four hours,” he said, adding that many don’t make it in time.
While, representatives from more than 18 towns and villages in different parts of the country, officials outlined the scale of the carnage, from entire families wiped out to bloated bodies floating down the Ganges River to farmland left untended due to a lack of workers.
Many claim the scale of the crisis is much bigger than official numbers revealed. Villagers are now afraid to leave their homes even if they have fevers and local authorities failing to properly record virus fatalities.
India reported 274,390 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to figures from the health ministry.
Anguish is building both at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration and local authorities for failing to bolster medical infrastructure following a virus wave last year, including securing sufficient supplies of oxygen and vaccines. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party last month lost local elections in Basi and other parts of Uttar Pradesh.
The sentiment on the ground suggests broader troubles for Modi and fellow BJP leader Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. The state holds elections next year.
“We had complete support for Modi and Yogi, but now whatever happens we will vote the BJP out,” Sahab Singh, 72, said in the center of Basi, which was virtually empty.
Meanwhile, representatives from both the prime minister’s office and the health ministry have not responded to request for comment. Modi addressed the issue on May 14 following a meeting with several chief ministers. “I want to warn you about corona. The infection is spreading fast in villages,” the prime minister said. “Efforts are being taken to deal with this.”
Baijayant “Jay” Panda, a senior official with Modi’s BJP, told media on Monday the latest virus wave has been a “humbling experience,” but pointed to a significant vaccination rollout and the provision of shots to more than 80 countries in a global outreach effort.
He defended Modi’s response, saying election authorities made the decision to proceed with polls and states were responsible for building oxygen plants that received federal funding.
“It’s not just the prime minister who thought we had overcome the biggest ravages of corona — the consensus in India by early January was that we had done so,” Panda said. “Many of the epidemiologists who are today criticizing are on the record back in October saying the worst was over and that we should not have as many restrictions.”
Uttarakhand has also been hit hard. The state saw jump in Covid cases almost 20 times after it hosted more than nine million people for the Hindu religious festival known as the ‘Kumbh Mela’ between March 31 and April 24.
“There isn’t a house in Rishikesh where people aren’t sick, Haridwar is also in a similar condition,” said Navin Mohan, who helps arrange tours to the holy towns on the banks of the Ganges.
“The pandemic is now truly beyond control,” Mohan said. “Thousands are dying and will die in the next few weeks. The government is fudging numbers, but the reality is visible to everyone.”