Indian officials ignored their own group of scientific advisors who warned in March that a virulent new strain of the coronavirus was rapidly spreading across the country.
The government put no restrictions and allowed millions of people, mostly exposed, to attend crowded religious festivals, protests and political rallies held by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other politicians from the ruling Bharatiya Janata party and opposition parties, Reuters reported.
Now India is facing a wave of new infections that are forcing overcrowded hospitals to close their gates as millions battle for treatment and morgues overflowing with victims of COVID-19. Even a belated mass vaccination campaign stumbles and states are running out of shots as infection rates have climbed to over 400,000 cases per day and deaths are over 3,500 per day.
The warning about the new variant, which was discovered in February, was issued by the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genetics Consortium. According to Reuters, it has been forwarded to the country’s health ministry and a top official who reports directly to the prime minister. The news agency has been unable to confirm whether it was passed on to Modi himself. His office did not respond to a request for comment.
When the country’s health ministry published the discovery of the new variant, it did not express much concern, but said the burden would be tackled with tests and quarantine measures already in progress. No steps were taken to prevent large gatherings or to impose lockdown measures. The number of new infections quadrupled between March 1st and April 1st.
“It was made very, very clear that it will be too late to prevent the mortality we will see if drastic measures are not taken now,” said Sujeet Kumar Singh, director of the National Center for Disease Control , about another meeting that took place on April 18th. Modi spoke out against lockdowns two days later and urged states to avoid them because of the economic damage.
The Indian variant has now reached at least 17 countries, including Great Britain, Switzerland and Iran. The US will start restricting travel from India starting Tuesday.