Vermonters with roots in India worry about country’s deadly COVID surge

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A harsh, second wave of COVID-19 is devastating parts of India. According to Johns Hopkins, it is now the second country behind the U.S. to report 20 million COVID cases.

For those grappling with the surge, the “light at the end of tunnel” seems out of sight. India counted more than 350,000 new cases and more than 3400 deaths as of Monday night.

“We’ve seen over the past few weeks explosive numbers of new cases, and there’s a sort of sense that this is a severe undercounting,” said Dr. Pablo Bose, UVM’s Global and Regional Studies Director.

Dr. Bose was born in India. At the beginning of pandemic, the virus took the lives of some of his relatives. “We lost several family members. It felt more like a lack of knowledge of how to address what was going on,” said Dr. Bose.

But that isn’t the case anymore. He says while India was making good progress, it relaxed restrictions too quickly.

“As late as February, we were looking at India as this miraculous case that had escaped a second wave. There really hadn’t been a big outbreak in India the way in which people had feared,” said Dr. Bose.

In April, a political election and a religious festival, Kumbh Mela, prompted large gatherings around the country, which Dr. Bose says contributed to the surge.

“They allowed political rallies to take place in the state of West Bengal. It was a hotly contested election that they stretched out for a month. They could have held that election for a few days. The central government allowed that to go on for a month,” said Dr. Bose.

Millions also gathered to take a dip in the Ganges river. Now, overrun hospitals and strained surge sites are turning people away. Crematoriums and burial grounds are also overwhelmed.  

“Here in Vermont we rightly get concerned when the positivity rates are 2-2.5 percent. And you’re having clinics where the positivity rates are over 50 percent,” said Dr. Bose.

Aayudh Das is from Kolkata, India, and a member of UVM’s Indian Student Association. 

“There is a massive shortage of beds, ICU beds. The second biggest problem is the oxygen supply,” said Das.

This is despite the fact that India produces almost 7,000 tons of oxygen, said Das.

“The problem is it’s mostly based in the Eastern part of India, and we don’t have the current infrastructure of transporting them,” said Das.

Das said he spoke to his family Monday night. They’re sheltering in place but seeing the impact of the surge right before their eyes. 

“They’re listening to a lot of neighborhoods all the time that the ambulance is coming,” said Das.

Johns Hopkins reports India more than doubled its cases since January. Dr. Bose points to poor leadership for the surge.

“But I think the biggest set of problems was really this kind of over confidence and opening up of India…and not surprisingly cases have swelled all over the place. ”  

Das is hopeful the surge will come to an end soon. As part of the Indian Student Association, he made sure members got the vaccine, and all have been vaccinated. 

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