A prayer for Sri Lanka and India
As Sri Lanka prepares to brace itself for its largest COVID-19 surge yet, India has careened into a humanitarian crisis unlike the world has ever seen since the onset of the global pandemic. What the world’s largest democracy is facing right now could easily be the single worst medical disaster in world history with supplies running low and healthcare services on the verge of total collapse due to the staggering influx of coronavirus cases.
The number of coronavirus cases in India exceeded 18 million with 3,645 deaths reported on Thursday (29). Meanwhile, the Indian Government rejected reports of problems with its vaccine campaign and experts say that the country’s best hope to curb the deadly second wave was to vaccinate its vast population. Despite being the world’ biggest producer, India does not have the stock to inoculate the 600 million people who are eligible for the vaccine. As of now, just nine per cent of India’s population have received the first dose of the vaccine since the vaccination programme began in January; which prioritised health workers and then the elderly.
The scenes coming out of India are heart wrenching, with the most pitiful being the mass funeral pyres burning day and night to accommodate more and more people succumbing to the dreaded virus. News channels documented on camera the long queues in hospitals in major Indian cities like New Delhi and Mumbai where COVID-19 cases were captured dying. The frantic search for oxygen was also difficult to watch; stills of people dragging gas canisters through squarely slums just added more definition to the hellish conditions that our dear neighbours are going through.
A woman tries to revive her husband who is spayed across a stretcher fighting to breathe; the next minute he is no more. A son watches his mother’s burning pyre while holding on to her jewellery; her parting gift. But as much as these are warnings to take this pandemic business seriously, we know that their fate is not far from ours. No one in the world ever asked for this pandemic as we entered a new decade optimistic of all the technological progresses that are being made.
This is not the time for the world to wag its fingers at India and say what they could have done right. Instead everyone should be appreciating the Indians for undertaking the manufacture of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, which they distributed free in large batches to countries around the region. Sri Lanka should be grateful for the fleet of Ambulances India gifted which is proving most resourceful during this pandemic.
Likewise, the world is reaching out to India with help. Two Russian planes, carrying 20 oxygen concentrators, 75 ventilators, 150 bedside monitors, and medicines totalling 22 metric tonnes, arrived in Delhi on Thursday.
The United States is sending supplies worth more than USD 100 million to India, including 1,000 oxygen cylinders, 15 million N95 masks and one million rapid diagnostic tests, the White House said in a statement on Wednesday (28). The US also has redirected its own order of AstraZeneca manufacturing supplies to India, which will allow it to make over 20 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa expressed deep empathy and concern at the ongoing situation in India in his letter of solidarity to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday.
President Rajapaksa in his letter noted that concerted efforts of humanity have succeeded in overcoming such pandemics since time immemorial. He also expressed confidence that India will tackle the crisis effectively under Modi with the support of dedicated experts and professionals.
As Sri Lankans we should stand by our neighbour India in its darkest hour. The great land of Bharat will always be Lanka’s closest kin and as a nation we wholeheartedly stand in solidarity with our Indian brothers and sisters as they face the worst of the global pandemic.