Wave Two: The Pseudoscience Behind India’s COVID-19 Crisis

COVID-19 patients receive oxygen at a Sikh gurdwara in Delhi on Sunday April 25, 2021.
Image Credit: NYT

Since the beginning of April 2021, India has seen a sharp increase in new cases of Covid-19, which has resulted in unimaginable public health emergencies. Thousands of people are dying and new compliant cases have risen to 400,000 per day.

Images of mass cremation pyres and the desperate struggle of COVID-19 patients outside hospitals for bed and oxygen, even in the Indian capital Delhi, revealed India’s lack of preparedness to deal with an easily predictable second wave.

The Covid crisis in India has grown so huge that it has brought unthinkable misery to the country and posed a grave threat to the world. India’s highly contagious double mutant (officially called B. 1.617) has already spread to at least 17 other countries, and others fear it will be affected. The United States has banned travel from India and Australia is threatening to sentence anyone arriving from India to 5 years in prison.

A devastating crisis

It is essential to ask why India’s COVID crisis has become so devastating. There is no doubt that the country was not ready to face the second wave despite at least more than a year’s notice. Three countries in the world that have suffered the wrath of the pandemic the most are the United States, Brazil and Trump-era India.

Besides the common factor of governance under right-wing populist governments, the other common link between these three countries is to ignore science and data and instead glorify popular beliefs.

India’s seriously troubling relationship with science and data didn’t start with the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is a phenomenon that is at least seven years old. Immediately after coming to power in 2014, the head of the new government made sensational claims that cosmetic surgery and genetic science existed in India thousands of years ago.

The open patronage of Vedic science and the promotion of “voodoo” drugs have undermined scientific and medical research and posed serious difficulties for scientists and doctors in the country.

In the revival plan of regained pride, pseudoscience has been promoted for seven years, which has helped strengthen the ruling party’s vote bank. But it has done the most damage to India’s ability and preparedness to fight the coronavirus and contain the severity of the pandemic-induced public health emergency.

Several ruling party leaders and ministers have openly and publicly claimed that cow urine can help cure the coronavirus. Two weeks ago, the chief minister of Uttarakhand allowed millions of worshipers to bathe in the water of the Ganges, which he described as ‘Maa Ganga’s blessing in flux ”.

False statements galore

India’s Water Ministry wanted doctors to find out if Gangajal can cure COVID. India’s AYUSH ministry has asked people to drink hot milk with turmeric as part of the COVID protocol. The minister himself has made a false claim that the Prince of Wales has recovered from COVID using ‘Ayurvedic medicine’.

Another minister even claimed that an Indian snack, papad, could stimulate antibodies against the coronavirus. Even the Indian Minister of Health publicly promoted an Ayurvedic drug ‘Coronil’ for the treatment of COVID-19 in February 2021, while the company that produced it falsely claimed the drug was certified by the WHO.

These claims are no less bizarre than Trump’s suggestion that a disinfectant could be used to treat the virus or Bolsonaro’s public display of swallowing hydroxychloroquine tablets. However, some of the claims made in India are inexplicable, and the leaders’ decision to declare a 14 hour lockdown (Janata’s Curfew) in March 2020, then claiming they could beat the coronavirus in 21 days, confused people further.


Indian yoga guru Ramdev releases so-called drug Patanjali for COVID-19, in the presence of Union ministers Nitin Gadkari and Dr Harsh Vardhan, at a press conference in New Delhi on Friday, February 19, 2021 .
Image Credit: PTI

Mass applause, casseroles and other gobbledygook

The nation was prompted to use astrology and Vedic science to mass applaud, slam utensils, and light candles during the first wave.

India was promoting pseudoscience and did a lot to undermine good science in its battle against the coronavirus. Like any other scientific discipline, the advancement of medical science depends on a solid base of credible data. India’s data on COVID infection and death has not guided government policy and policy; rather, it was his politics and politics that guided what the data should look like.

Systemic undercoverage of COVID victims and the hiding of critical information has helped authorities declare premature victory over the virus and engage in ‘vaccine diplomacy’, but it has severely affected the approach the country’s public health scientist.

The double mutant was first detected in India during the first week of October 2020, but the Indian Ministry of Health did not confirm it until March 24, 2021. The country took almost a year to set up a centralized genome sequencing mechanism, and it didn’t even work. correctly due to lack of good data.

If the data had been properly collected and tracked, and the advice of public health experts had been listened to, in this case, it is very difficult to imagine the country allowing large political meetings in states like West Bengal and religious gatherings at the bank of the Ganges as it was on the verge of a devastating phase of the second wave.

Pseudoscience and data manipulation can keep supporters of right-wing populists happy and jubilant, but seriously damage a country’s public health during a pandemic.

Belief in the importance of science and the pursuit of policies based on good data would not have stopped the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it would certainly have better prepared India and its hospitals and saved thousands. of lives.

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