No healthcare system in the world is designed to handle a once-in-a-century pandemic. When the Chinese virus reached Western shores, the most advanced healthcare systems in the world collapsed humbly before it. New York City, the epitome of the modern world, was reduced to a post-apocalyptic mass graveyard. In Europe, senior citizens were being sent home to die, so that younger members of the population live to see another day. Local governments, with the help of friendly media, attempted to put on a brave face and deny that the pile of corpses was growing, all the while getting slowly engulfed in its shadow.
The Indian healthcare system does not match up to the Western ones by any stretch of the imagination. As thousands struggle to find the right resources and continue to lose their loved ones, the system fights on. At the peak of India’s second wave of COVID-19, its inferior healthcare system continues to put the first world to shame when cases and deaths are counted per million. The debate about whether this is the right way to count continues to rage and has become meaningless since people keep changing sides based on political convenience.
This is not to say that India’s healthcare system does what it can in the most optimal manner, that would be an outright lie. Pictures of funeral pyres might have offended people’s sensibilities while cries for help might have created a sense of panic, but there is no denying that most of them are real. However, one trend that is hard to miss is that a disproportionate amount of vulture journalism and SOS calls come from the National Capital Region (NCR).
The region has remained visible throughout the pandemic because, since the beginning, it has contributed to a disproportionate number of cases. The shortages and resource crunches which seem to afflict the region more strongly than any other in India today have just added to its visibility. For example, a city like Bengaluru which has more active cases than Delhi today and is probably facing certain shortages surely does not face shortages that are as acute as those in Delhi. The system has certainly dropped the ball somewhere. As we have established this was bound to happen, the question really is to what extent it was avoidable. The local government has been at the forefront of the COVID-19 crisis, although opinion about whether it was helpful or whether it caused impediments stands sharply divided.
Here are some of the measures which the Kejriwal government has taken and not taken in the run-up to the second wave. You can decide for yourself how beneficial these calls were. Let us begin with what they have not done so far.
- The state government built no new hospitals in Delhi between 2015 and 2019 according to an RTI. In the same period, only 189 of the promised 1,000 Mohalla Clinics were opened.
- The state government failed to set up oxygen plants on time. The Central government asked state governments all over the country to set up oxygen plants during the first wave in 2020. Last week, the union government informed the Delhi High Court that in December 2020, funds were sanctioned from the PM Cares fund for the local government to set up eight oxygen plants in Delhi. Up until last week, the government had set up only one.
- The Delhi Chief Minister’s Relief Fund has collected 35 crore rupees since the pandemic began, but according to an RTI, ‘NIL’ meaning none of it has been utilised for Covid.
- In November 2020, BJP MP Gautam Gambhir set up a 50-bed Covid Centre through his own foundation. The Delhi government refused to give permission to make it operational. Gambhir then donated equipment worth lakhs that he purchased to other hospitals so that they could be used to save lives.
- The state government did not supply oxygen to hospitals on time despite written assurances. A doctor told a news channel (News 24) that many lives were lost in his hospital (Jaipur Golden) since they were banking upon oxygen arriving at the promised hour, but it did not. The same hospital’s lawyer told the court that generally, the hospital would deal directly with the supplier, but the Delhi government had disrupted the supply chain.
- On the supply side, the state government did not cooperate in the collection of oxygen. Central government officer Piyush Goyal (not to be confused with minister Piyush Goyal) told the court that, unlike other states who were collaborating for the use of tankers and the railways for oxygen to reach on time, the Delhi government was expecting it to be served on a platter to them. For example, the supply was ready at Rourkela, but despite informing the Delhi government’s nodal officer, nobody showed up to collect it.
- On the supply side again, the Delhi government directed oxygen supplier INOX to supply 98 MT oxygen to 17 hospitals. Inox had contractual obligations to supply 105 MT of oxygen to 45 hospitals already, This left 28 hospitals without oxygen, causing the loss of many lives.
- Despite offers for tankers being made to them, the Delhi government did not act on it. The government claimed in court that it had tankers, although it had put out ads in newspapers that very morning stating that it needed tankers.
Perhaps this is an unfair assessment since we have only considered what the Delhi government has not done so far. Now let us look at what the Delhi government has done.
- The Delhi government declared a lockdown when the situation went out of control. Thousands of migrant workers clamoured together at Delhi’s bus stands to return home. The lockdown has now been extended.
- The Delhi government encouraged thousands of agitators to continue their agitation along the Delhi border. Several arrangements were made for them by the Delhi government. On 28th February 2021, Chief Minister Kejriwal personally attended a large gathering or Mahapanchayat in neighbouring Meerut and encouraged the agitators to continue their agitation.
- The Delhi government has swung into action overnight and reserved 100 rooms in the 5-star Ashoka Hotel at the heart of Delhi as a Covid care facility for judges and judicial officers of the Delhi High Court and their families.
- Many meetings between Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, Health Minister Satyendra Jain and other officials have taken place regarding the covid situation. An oxygen war-room has also been set up, and it functions even at midnight. Sometimes Manish Sisodia mans it himself. For all the sceptics, videos of these meetings have been taken from many different camera angles and have been shared widely on social media.
- Ministers of the Delhi government have also reviewed Covid care facilities that the central government has set up in Delhi, and have diligently shared information about their reviewing efforts on social media.
- Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has written to other Chief Ministers asking for help and has even asked for help from big businessmen. He has always kept the people informed, making sure to tweet ahead of making these requests.
- The Delhi government has worked hard to spread awareness. They have increased their advertising budget, spending 150 crores in the first 3 months of 2021. This is much more than many of the largest spenders on advertising in India. A social media user documented how the India Today news channel featured the Delhi government’s advertisements 15 times in 6 hours on Saturday. Other social media users confirmed that they come across a similar pattern on other news channels.
- Chief Minister Kejriwal has attended a meeting with Prime Minister Modi and other Chief Ministers and has asked the Prime Minister for help. He even shared the live feed of the meeting when he was asking for help.
No healthcare system in the world is designed to handle a once-in-a-century pandemic. Whether the existing system was enhanced or used optimally is the question. As you can see, a lot was done and a lot was not done in that regard.