In an editorial that minced no words, the medical journal The Lancet severely criticised the Narendra Modi government for its handling of the COVID-19 crisis in India, saying it has given the impression of being more occupied with “removing criticism on Twitter than trying to control the pandemic”.
The editorial says top government officials prematurely declared victory over the pandemic – highlighting health minister Harsh Vardhan’s comment that India is in the ‘endgame‘, leading to complacency and insufficient preparation. While pointing out the shortcomings of the government’s response, The Lancet also suggested a two-pronged strategy to control the outbreak.
The journal also criticised the government’s decision – despite warnings – to allow religious and political congregations These events are “conspicuous for their lack of COVID-19 mitigation measures”, the editorial said.
The journal said that the country’s “botched” vaccination campaign must immediately be rationalised and implemented with all due speed. It saw two immediate bottlenecks: increasing vaccine supply (some of which should come from abroad) and setting up a distribution campaign that will also cover rural and poorer citizens, who “face a desperate scarcity of public health and primary care facilities”. “The government must work with local and primary health-care centres that know their communities and create an equitable distribution system for the vaccine,” it suggested.
Transmission of the virus should also be reduced as much as possible while the vaccine is rolled out, The Lancet said, asking the government to publish “accurate data in a timely manner”, and forthrightly explain to the public what is happening and what is needed to bend the epidemic curve. The editorial says the government must also consider the possibility of a new federal lockdown.
Citing estimates made by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, The Lancet said India could see 1 million deaths from COVID-19 by August 1. “If that outcome were to happen, Modi’s Government would be responsible for presiding over a self-inflicted national catastrophe. 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 editorial says.