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Modi's Lies: Local news media uncovers scale of covid crisis, challenges official data

d00od00o

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Are these India’s ‘forgotten victims’ of COVID?
In the village of Sultapur Kheda, in Uttar Pradesh, as many as 18 people have died in the past three weeks. But without COVID testing, the cause of death is often listed as ‘unknown’.

Saurabh Sharma
17 May 2021

Rae Bareli, Uttar Pradesh – Richa Gupta believes her father would still be alive if only he had received treatment sooner.

The 17-year-old who recently graduated from high school lives in Sultanpur Kheda, a village with a population of around 6,000 people that is located about 11 miles from Rae Bareli city and about 385 miles southeast of India’s capital, New Delhi.

Her 47-year-old father, Awadhesh Gupta, was previously healthy but died on April 27 – Richa believes from COVID-19. However, because he was never tested for the virus, no-one can be completely sure.

“My father was totally fit and fine,” she says. But on the evening of April 16 he developed a temperature. “The next day he started coughing,” Richa recalls.

She says he bought some medicines from the local pharmacy but they did not work and “his temperature kept on rising”.

According to Richa, her father consulted the local “quack” – an unregistered “doctor” who villagers would often go to in order to save time because public health services are remote and often over-crowded. These doctors are not officially permitted, but in rural areas of India, people often depend on them. This “doctor” prescribed more medicines, Richa says, adding that “he took them for two days but nothing worked.”

On April 22, Awadhesh went to a private hospital in Rae Bareli but was told to go to the city’s government hospital because he had COVID-like symptoms. There, doctors prescribed him yet more medicines and advised him to remain in home quarantine.

Richa cries as she explains that he was not tested for COVID-19 at the hospital. She is certain, however, that it was the virus that killed him.

Awadhesh started experiencing breathlessness on April 24 and, on the advice of a friend who was a doctor, went for a CT scan at a private laboratory in Rae Bareli. “After that, we came to know that my father’s lungs were heavily infected and [we were sure] he had COVID,” Richa explains.

“The CT scan report said that one of the lungs of my father was totally damaged while the other one was 50 percent damaged. My maternal uncle immediately rushed him to the district hospital from where he was referred to the COVID-dedicated L2 hospital in Lal Ganj [around 20 miles from Rae Bareli city].

“My father got admitted there on April 25, but he did not get any treatment other than the oxygen support. He was declared dead on April 27,” she says.

Because of the family’s certainty that he had COVID, Awadhesh’s death was recorded as a COVID death. However, in many cases where a sick person has not been tested for COVID, the authorities have attributed their deaths to “unknown” or “natural” causes, or “comorbidities” (underlying health conditions).

Richa believes she knows when and where her father contracted COVID.

“I am very sure that my father got infected when he went out to vote for the panchayat (village council) elections,” she says.

The village council elections in India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh were held over four non-consecutive days in April – the first of these being April 15, when Awadhesh went to vote. There has been criticism of the failure to enforce social distancing and mask-wearing during the election campaigns and during voting.

A ‘mysterious fever’
Vinod Tiwari was the leader (or gram pradham) of the village until he was unseated in the recent election. He says he has heard of 12 people who have died in the village in the past three weeks but that only two of the deaths were recorded as being due to COVID-19.

“Not all the deaths that have happened in the village are [officially] due to COVID-19,” he says. “Two people from the village have died in the hospitals who were COVID-positive while two to three others had COVID-like symptoms. The cause of death for others is not known but people say that they were comorbid people [those with underlying health issues].”

Others believe the death count is higher. Sudeep Shukla, a farmer from the village, has been keeping an informal record of each person who has died. He puts the number at 18 over the past three weeks. Everyone is sick and yet nothing is being done to solve this “mysterious fever” which is taking life after life, he says. He is certain it is COVID-19.

“The cousin is sick. The neighbour is sick. The flour mill guy is sick. The grocery store owner is sick. The guy across the street is sick. Everyone is sick. Everyone is coughing and, so far, 18 people have died in a span of three weeks. We have never seen such a large number of deaths in such a short time. Elderly people dying seems normal but middle-aged people dying is not normal. This should come to an end now. Enough of the fever and virus,” says Sudeep.

Vinod Tiwari says the villagers suspect that the spike in deaths is connected to the village council elections. “A lot of crowds were seen during all election-related activities, be it filing the candidacy, campaigning, voting or even counting of the election,” he explains.

“The natives of the village who live in other cities came to the village to exercise their franchise. They travelled through public transport and no screening or testing was done. God knows if they carried the virus with them but, soon after, people started dying.”

The closest state-run medical facility is the community health centre in Jatua village, about six miles away. But it is not equipped to handle complex cases like COVID. Those who display symptoms are referred either to the government hospital in Rae Bareli city or the COVID-dedicated hospital in Lal Ganj where Awadhesh died. It has 10 ventilators and 250 beds, 112 of which have oxygen support, according to the director of the facility, Dr B R Yadav. There are 15 doctors and 30 paramedics, enough to treat everyone, says the director.

Small businesses like grocery shops and farming form the primary economy of the village – the north of which is primarily occupied by villagers from the more privileged castes while the west is largely home to members of less privileged castes.
The village is also home to three “quacks”, but all three have now “disappeared” from the village, the locals say. They believe these unregistered doctors have gone into hiding for fear of health department officials coming because of the COVID cases. The only pharmacy in the village has become a one-stop shop for villagers searching for instant medical help for their COVID-like symptoms. It is owned by Manoj Verma, who is in his late 30s.

“The state-run facilities are not of much use because the villagers have developed a habit of visiting the local doctors but they are non-registered doctors. Those doctors have stopped looking at patients due to the pandemic and surge in COVID-19 cases and now people come to my shop for the medication,” he explains.

“To get medicines, [a] prescription is a must but now people come and ask for medicines like painkillers, aspirins, antibiotics, anti-parasitics and for those medicines [a] prescription is not required and I give them but with a warning to visit the doctor first and take the medication only if it has been advised by the doctor.”

But there is another problem Manoj says he is witnessing – “people are scared to get themselves tested for COVID-19, even after developing serious symptoms like breathlessness [and] coughing .., because they feel that they might by shunned by society,” he explains.

‘They brought the virus with them’
Official information about the death toll in the village is muddled. When asked about the surge in deaths in the village, Anshika Dikshit, a district administrative officer posted in the Rae Bareli district, told Al Jazeera: “As per my information, people have died but not in the last two or three weeks but in the last two months. Few of the deaths were due to COVID, while the rest of the deaths were natural and in many of the cases people had comorbidities.”

The chief medical officer for the district of Rae Bareli, Dr Virendra Singh, however, told Al Jazeera by phone that he was aware of only four or five deaths in the village – three of which were due to COVID.

Many Indian states have imposed strict lockdowns over the last month while others have placed curbs on movement and shut cinemas, restaurants, pubs, schools, educational institutes and shopping malls.

Brian Wahl, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Department of International Health in New Delhi, says that the health infrastructure in rural parts of India is not equipped for such a surge in cases.
“We know that in rural parts, the access to quality services is challenging and these areas highly depend on frontline health workers only. We know that a mass gathering has the potential to be a super spreader event ..,” he said.

Dr Harjit Singh Bhatti, the national president of the Progressive Medicos & Scientists Forum (PMSF) in New Delhi, agrees.

“Earlier, people used to come to cities in crisis but now, watching the caseload increasing, they have nowhere to go. The very sad part is that we will never be able to know how many people have died and what was their cause of death,” he explains.

“In the previous wave, the Indian villages were safe, but this time, due to village council elections and also due to the Kumbh Mela festival [which around 3.5 million people attended], COVID has reached the countryside.”

Bhatti believes this situation could have been averted and many lives saved if a timely decision had been taken to postpone the elections.

“Elections strengthen democracy …. [But] people from big cities went to their villages to exercise their franchise and with them the virus also travelled and now we are seeing the result in the form of a large number of deaths,” he says.

‘They said his breathlessness was asthma’
Meanwhile, in Sultanpur Kheda, another tragedy is unfolding. Across the street from the Gupta family home, a middle-aged-woman in a grey saree cries under a thatched hut outside a two-storey home. Her 12-year-old granddaughter tries to console her. They flee back into the house when asked what is wrong.

But the woman’s son, 26-year-old Indrajeet Sahu, explains that his 52-year-old father, Ram Sajeevan Sahu, passed away on April 27.

“He fell sick after the village council elections,” Indrajeet explains.

“He had a high temperature and from April 23, he started complaining about breathlessness. For his temperature, he took medicines from the local pharmacy but was advised to consult a doctor immediately.”

On April 25, the family took Ram Sajeevan to the community health centre in Jatua village. But the health centre did not test him for COVID – the family say they do not know why.

“The doctors gave him medicine, saying the breathlessness could be due to asthma, so we took the medicines and came back home. The problem continued and we heard that other hospitals nearby did not have oxygen and on the morning of April 27, he passed away at home,” says Indrajeet.

He explains that his father used to help him run a street food cart but that now he has died Indrajeet must financially support the entire family alone.

“It is very painful to see your father die in front of your eyes. The more painful [thing is not being able to help him [in] any way. There was no oxygen in any of the hospitals and things were very bad. Now my father is gone it seems like everything is gone,” he says, with tears in his eyes.
 

jamahir

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“I am very sure that my father got infected when he went out to vote for the panchayat (village council) elections,” she says.
Vinod Tiwari says the villagers suspect that the spike in deaths is connected to the village council elections. “A lot of crowds were seen during all election-related activities, be it filing the candidacy, campaigning, voting or even counting of the election,” he explains.
Was it necessary for this election to be conducted now ? The result has been these unnecessary deaths.

These elections, whether at village level or state level or national level, are a waste of time and other resources. They are not an indicator of democracy but of an illusion of democracy. A sham. Five-yearly, unnecessarily complicated dance of multiple parties that must be replaced by a party-less, direct democracy system guided by progressive, left-wing thought.

“In the previous wave, the Indian villages were safe, but this time, due to village council elections and also due to the Kumbh Mela festival [which around 3.5 million people attended], COVID has reached the countryside.”
The BJP-led Modi government at the center had actually removed the Chief Minister of a BJP-ruled northern state who recommended that this year, because of COVID, the Maha Kumbh Mela festival should be done symbolically. Without physically going to that place. BJP top brass got angry with this CM though he was of the same party and removed him from CMship.

The BJP top brass is responsible for the deaths of those villagers who returned from the Kumbh festival.

PR and ‘high level’ meetings not enough to salvage ‘Brand Modi’ on oxygen
PM’s ‘high level meetings’ and reports that he is personally monitoring oxygen supply and vaccination have failed to refurbish his tattered reputation. His minders might reflect on limits of PR
PR and ‘high level’ meetings not enough to salvage ‘Brand Modi’ on oxygen

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Ranjona Banerji
Published: 16 May 2021, 3:35 PM
Engagement:39
Allegations of Prime Minister Narendra Modi not doing enough during this second wave of Covid19 in India have caused ripples in the bunker. The PR machinery has been hard at work. Yes, contrary to rumours spread by anti-nationals, some work is done in the bunker.
Now how do you prove that a person who only leaves the bunker for election purposes actually does anything when there are no elections? You organize “meetings”. This is a “trial and error” type of policy, so far.
One error was to organize meetings with chief ministers. Clear non-application of mind. The chief ministers are, you know, politicians. And not all, despite the best efforts of the Best Bunker Friend Amit Shah, are BJP politicians. One evil CM did a “live-telecast” of a meeting without permission. Another wicked chap accused the PM of not listening.
Unacceptable. Politicians. Cannot be trusted.
Of India’s over 700 districts, the PR team decided to carefully pick 100 district magistrates and discuss Covid19 relief with them. The best strategy from the PM last year involved bashing pots and pans together. This year’s advice was “self-reliance”. But you and I know that these meetings have nothing to do with Covid. They have to do with Image.
No sooner was this meeting announced than another one popped up. Two important meetings in a day! The other PR meeting is to oversee the progress of Cyclone Tauktae as it develops in the Arabian Sea and is expected to hit the coast of Gujarat. Gujarat has also been hit hard by Calamity Covid but… why do you keep going there and picking at an old wound?
The virus has a right to live, as a BJP politician informed us.
And in order to assist the virus, the Modi government worked wonders with India’s vaccine policy. Thus, we have more or less run out of vaccines. The ones we make, the ones we want to make, the ones we might buy, the ones we forgot to order. We don’t have much of any.
But we do have a PR team. First the team told the country that we had donated many vaccines because we love the world. Then the team said we had contractual obligations to deliver vaccines. Then the team said we didn’t have contractual or legal obligations. Then the team said don’t take them so often. Then the team said buy them yourself. Then the team said how dare the states try to buy the vaccines themselves.
Then another BJP politician said people who want vaccines are just doing this out of “narrow political passions” and because they want to go against the “whole of government” policy. However, since the PR team was not involved with the “whole of government” policy or even a quarter of government policy, they came up with the 1/7th of districts meeting policy.

This “PR is paramount policy” bring us where we are: the greatest catastrophe faced by contemporary India. We’ve had calamities, with huge costs. But this Covid19 crisis, is all-India, all-pervasive, unrelenting. In early 2020 no one was prepared and any number of governments the world over grappled, tripped and failed. We in India were told we had done better than the rest. In January 2021, the PR team told us that we had beaten the virus and we were the best.
And that is also why this Covid 19 Calamity is worse than anything else. Lies and self-delusion and PR. We were told it was coming. We made no preparations. We did not even order enough vaccines for a country of our size. We played petty schoolyard “my Covid policy is better than yours” games. Even today, we claim that the states had been informed of another wave. What a masterstroke by the PR team. Because a miserable worm like me might ask, if the states were informed, was the Centre also informed? If not, why not. And if yes…
Why were no provisions made for medical equipment? Over a month since the PR team informed us that Modi and Shah themselves were overseeing oxygen distribution across India. And yet, Covid-affected people still die in hospitals, in car parks, on the roads, in their homes, in ICUs connected to ventilators, gasping for breath, for lack of medical oxygen.
There is no PR team on earth that can cover up the smell of death across India unless you let it. Don’t get fooled again.
..
Wonderfully humorous article.
 
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jamahir

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It has already started

“We are surviving on the government ration of three kilos of wheat and two kilos of rice a month,” Bablu said.
Wow ! In my family ( we live in the Deccan ) we purchase about 15 kgs of wheat and about 25 kgs of rice every 1.5 months or so.

Last month, the Indian government announced free food grains (rice or wheat) to the poor under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana. Around 800 million beneficiaries will receive five kgs grain a month for the two months of May and June. This allocation is over and above the five kgs of food grains per month each beneficiary is entitled to under the National Food Security Act, 2013.

Meanwhile, the Uttar Pradesh government has announced additional free foodgrains to 14.5 million poor beneficiaries for May and June. But, is that enough for the rural poor to tide over the second year of the pandemic and repeated loss of livelihoods?

“The rations help, but where is the money for the oil, fuel, vegetables, medicines, etc.,” Rekha Devi, sitting in the doorway to her thatched hut in Sauranga in Barabanki, said. She complained she had to cook with next to nothing for a family of 10. Somehow, she said, she was managing to stretch the rations — wheat or rice from the local ration shop — to feed the family.
So a minimal government supply of grains to the citizens and no supply of oil, fuel and vegetables so many times they eat the rice or bread with salt or sometimes they manage to make a chutney ( sauce ).
 

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Large number of cases are going unreported in vast stretches of India
Shabir Hussain, Special to Gulf News Published: May 17, 2021 13:15
Comment

India
Chandra Mohan, right, a plumber working in a Delhi suburb, is walking to his village, 680 miles away in another state. Hundreds of migrants like him have been forced to leave the capital as jobs have disappeared (File) Image Credit: Washington Post
It wasn’t many weeks back that India was trumpeting itself as global ‘vaccine guru’ that would lead the drive against COVID-19 and rid the world of it.
As the impending disaster was simmering, the ever-complicit media kept singing paeans for the government. So much so that a phrase, ‘vaccine diplomacy’, was coined for how India would involve its neighbours in its fight against the pandemic.
Here we are now — gripped by a nasty second wave that is getting scarier by the day, having turned India into the epicentre of COVID-19.
The second most populous country in the world is reeling under death and disease with no respite in sight. The number of infections and deaths continue to rise exponentially with a large number of cases going unreported.
The telltale signs suggest that the situation has already got out of hand. As the COVID-19 inferno continues to rage, a report by The Lancet predicts one million deaths by August. The Lancet editorial quoted the one-million projection by leading global health research body IHME. It doesn’t stop there.


Rapidly spreading variant


WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan warned in an interview with AFP: “the epidemiological features that we see in India today do indicate that it’s an extremely rapidly spreading variant.”
Swamithan has referred to it as a threat to the whole world. Scenes from ground zero are frightening as people helplessly see their kith and kin breathe their last with no assistance from a government that has been caught off guard despite repeated warnings by virologists and other experts that a deadlier second wave was round the corner.
Vaccine stocks have run out, hospitals are poorly equipped, health centres are bursting at the seams, crematoriums are overflowing with corpses. There are heart-rending stories coming from everywhere.
It’s a shame that despite warnings, government, and people too, became complacent pretending everything was normal. People stopped wearing masks; mass religious pilgrimages and congregations like Kumbh Mela were allowed; huge election rallies were carried out with the ruling BJP at the forefront in this breach of COVID-19 protocol.
In an interview with senior journalist Karan Thapar, noted American epidemiologist and biostatistician Prof Bhramar Mukherjee said that the mathematical projections she had done suggested that peak infections would come in mid-May when India could see 8-10 lakh daily infections and in terms of deaths the peak would be two weeks later in end May when India could see 4500 daily deaths.


A terrifying scenario


Other experts too have predicted a similarly terrifying scenario. These spine chilling projections based on proper research cannot be ignored or downplayed, as BJP politicians and their apologists try to do alluding to the international media coverage as some conspiracy against India.
Had those at the helm not been lackadaisical, perhaps the second wave may not have blown across India with such fury and catastrophic effect. Despite repeated warnings, medical supplies weren’t ramped up and what we see around us today is a natural manifestation of that.
A damning expose` by a leading Indian magazine says that despite surge, India’s COVID-19 task force, comprising top scientists of the country, didn’t conduct a single meeting in February or March. “As daily cases rose, drastically this year, India’s top scientists in the task force watched — but did not meet,” says the report.
Another disturbing reality is the callous approach of the authorities towards the victims and their attendants. A union minister was seen on television threatening to slap a man who was pleading for oxygen for his ailing mother.


Hiding failures


There are many other cases of government apathy. In UP, police summons and harasses relatives of COVID victims and volunteers who put out tweets asking for help, thus infuriating the ruling government that wants to hide its failures.
India may finally come out of this express health crisis but the apocalyptic impact on its already wobbling economy and slow development will be far-reaching.
If the media had done its job last year instead of witch-hunting the minorities, using COVID-19 as an excuse, it could have kept the government on tenterhooks.
Had the politicians concentrated on setting in place strict measures and strengthening the infrastructure instead of whipping up emotions against minorities by trying to project them as super spreaders without any evidence to back their outrageous claims, the misery and the utter failure of the state that we see today could have been avoided.
Shabir Hussain is a senior journalist based in India
 

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