India’s main opposition leader Rahul Gandhi has warned that unless the deadly second COVID-19 wave currently sweeping the country is brought under control it will devastate India, as well as threaten the rest of the world.
In a letter, Gandhi implored Prime Minister Narendra Modi to prepare for another national lockdown, accelerate a countrywide vaccination programme and scientifically track the virus and its mutations.
Gandhi said the world’s second-most populous nation had a responsibility in “a globalised and interconnected world” to stop the “explosive” growth of COVID-19 within its borders.
“India is home to one out of every six human beings on the planet. The pandemic has demonstrated that our size, genetic diversity and complexity make India fertile ground for the virus to rapidly mutate, transforming itself into a more contagious and more dangerous form,” wrote Gandhi.
“Allowing the uncontrollable spread of the virus in our country will be devastating not only for our people but also for the rest of the world.”
India’s highly infectious COVID-19 variant B.1.617 has already spread to other countries, and many nations have moved to cut or restrict movements from India.
British Prime Minister Boris said on Friday the government needed to handle very the emergence of new coronavirus strains in India that have since started to spread in the United Kingdom.
Meanwhile, tonnes of medical equipment from abroad has starting to arrive in Delhi hospitals, in what could ease the pressure on an overburdened system.
In the past week, India has reported an extra 1.5 million new infections and record daily death tolls. Since the start of the pandemic, it has reported 21.49 million cases and 234,083 deaths. It currently has 3.6 million active cases.
Modi has been widely criticised for not acting sooner to suppress the second wave, after religious festivals and political rallies drew tens of thousands of people in recent weeks and became “super spreader” events.
His government – which imposed a strict lockdown in March 2020 – has also been criticised for lifting social restrictions too soon following the first wave and for delays in the country’s vaccination programme.
The government has been reluctant to impose a second lockdown for fear of the damage to the economy, though many states have announced their own restrictions.
Goa, a tourism hotspot on the west coast where up to one in two people tested in recent weeks for coronavirus have been positive, on Friday announced strict curbs from Sunday 9 May, restricting timings for grocery shops, forbidding unnecessary travel and urging citizens to cancel all gatherings.
While India is the world’s biggest vaccine maker, it is also struggling to produce and distribute enough doses to stem the wave of COVID-19.
India vaccinated 2.3 million people on Thursday, the most this month but still far short of what is required to curb the spread of the virus.
India’s healthcare system is also struggling under the weight of patients, with hospitals running out of beds and medical oxygen. Morgues and crematoriums are also in extreme difficulty handling the number of dead.