It appears we live in a post-apocalyptic world. Except for Telangana, the entire country is in some stage of complete or partial lockdown. With between 3.5 and 4 lakh new cases of Covid-19 being recorded every day, and with families waiting for 18-20 hours at crematoriums to find a slot for funeral rites, after having waited for days outside or inside hospitals to find beds or oxygen for their now-departed relatives, and with new mutant strains being discovered, one would think there is no real need to emphasise just how dangerous the second wave of Covid-19 infection is.
And yet, it appears most of the country is still taking the virus far less seriously than we should.
We have been speaking of how the convoluted process of getting oneself vaccinated excludes those who are illiterate or have no internet access or no proof of identity; we have also been speaking of the forbidding costs of treatment leading to loss of lives among those who can’t afford it; there are news articles about usury and the black market for medication. The discussion over the second wave has turned into a discussion about the haves and have-nots.
While this is an issue that must be addressed, there is a far more urgent one—the need for awareness at the grassroots level. Rumours and conspiracy theories persist even in the face of video, photo and empirical evidence.
A problem that will trigger third and fourth and fifth waves is vaccine hesitancy. Since Tamil comedian Vivekh passed away soon after he got his vaccination, the fear of the vaccine seems to have trumped fear of contracting the disease in the state. It is true that any vaccine can have side-effects, which is why people are kept under observation for 30 minutes after inoculation. But these side-effects can be treated, except under very rare circumstances. The disease, on the other hand, is turning out to be a death sentence.
There is another belief that vaccination is ineffective, because even people who have had both shots of the vaccine have tested positive. Doctors have been saying from the very start that vaccination can only serve to prevent infection from turning serious, and that has largely held true. There is an enormous difference between the effects of the coronavirus on those who have not been vaccinated and those who have had at least one shot. Getting vaccinated will ensure that the infection, even if were to occur, is mild.
Despite the deaths, despite the suffering, the conspiracy theory that the entire story has been concocted to serve the needs of big pharmaceutical companies remains in currency. Big pharma cannot pay people to die. The shortage of hospital beds, the shortage of oxygen, the lack of essential supplies, the overworked medical staff, the lack of space to burn or bury the dead are not elements of a grand drama.
“How is it no one in the neighbourhood is affected?” ask WhatsApp forwards. “Why is there no second wave of this magnitude in Pakistan or Sri Lanka or Nepal or Bhutan or Bangladesh? People in other South Asian countries are as likely to flout rules about masks and spit on the streets as in India, so why did those countries escape the second wave?”
“This is a conspiracy against Narendra Modi by the oil and arms lobbies,” say the WhatsApp sages.
The conclusion that they draw is that all the images and videos we see are doctored, that the numbers of dead are grossly exaggerated by the media, which of course is anti-India. Therefore, according to them, the second wave does not exist.
Because if it existed, they ask, how could elections have been held?
So this is the defence—the elections were held because India was safe. And no one contracted the infection at the Kumbh Mela. The media has been bought by powerful lobbies to undermine India’s claim to being a superpower.
It is crucial that the more susceptible are made to see the logical fallacies of these theories. Even as citizens step in to volunteer with helplines and Covid war rooms, they must also step in to educate those they can about the real dangers posed by the infection.
The scary part is just how many people are in denial of the second wave, across socioeconomic classes and levels of education.
People continued to attend yoga classes en masse until the lockdown was imposed, believing it would give them the tools to stave off infection. Yes, any form of exercise or relaxation is good, but any human contact counts as exposure under the circumstances and so going to a live class rather than online sessions is an enormous risk.
There is so much fear of stigmatisation that people try to hide that they are ill or refuse to get tested.
The number of cases has gone up ten times in the country, and at the rate of spread, the medical journal Lancet has predicted that one million people could have died of Covid-19 in India by August 1, 2021.
The need of the hour is to educate people in self-isolation, hygiene and vaccination.
Nandini is the author of Invisible Men: Inside India's Transmasculine Networks (2018) and Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage (2013). She tweets @k_nandini. Her website is: www.nandinikrishnan.com