【明報專訊】The COVID-19 pandemic in India has become a disaster. Over the past week, more than 300,000 people have been diagnosed with the virus every day, and thousands of people have lost their lives daily. With dead bodies piled high like mountains, this is a humanitarian disaster for India. For the whole world, it is also a major warning sign. In the first four months of this year, the number of people who died from the pandemic in the world is equivalent to two-thirds of last year's total. With the explosion of cases in India and the spread of variants with multiple mutations, the global pandemic has hit an inflection point. As things could take a dramatic turn for the worse in the coming months, Hong Kong must remain absolutely vigilant. The unequal distribution of vaccines means that India is facing a shortage of vaccines for saving its people even though it is a major vaccine manufacturer.
As vaccination programmes in the UK and the US have shown initial results in recent months, the pandemic has eased off a bit, fuelling market optimism about an economic recovery in the second half of the year. This has easily led to the illusion that the global pandemic situation has run its course and things are becoming better after hitting rock bottom. But such optimism is at odds with reality. Last year, 1.8 million people died from COVID-19 worldwide. However, not even one-third into the year 2021, the number of deaths has reached 1.2 million. India is now the epicentre of the pandemic, with more than 300,000 new cases confirmed daily for seven consecutive days, and the number of deaths has soared to more than 2,000 a day on average. Hospitals everywhere are bulging at the seams, medical oxygen is in short supply, corpses are piled high like mountains, and crematoriums are overwhelmed. What India is facing today is not merely the collapse of its medical system, but a humanitarian disaster. As pointed out by WHO experts, figures from the Indian authorities are fraught with omissions, meaning that the real numbers of infections and deaths could probably be several times the official figures. What is also worrying is the discovery of variants with multiple mutations in India which are more transmissible. Although many countries have tightened restrictions on entry from India, more than ten countries, including the US, the UK and Israel, have recently discovered cases of variants from India. The risk of the spread should not be underestimated.
That the ''pandemic tsunami'' has swept across India with such ferocity and suddenness was not entirely unexpected. After all, when the first wave of the pandemic broke out in India last summer, many people were already concerned about its situation. Slums in major cities were the worst hit during the first wave of the pandemic in India, and the government locked down cities in response. Although the government was in over its head, the pandemic did ease off gradually, with the average daily number of new cases falling from over 90,000 at the height in September last year to 10,000 in February this year. However, a crisis was already brewing. The government claimed a ''victory'' over the pandemic prematurely, drastically relaxing anti-pandemic measures and ignoring the signs of a rebound of cases. Local elections went on as usual, and politicians held mass rallies. Citizens completely let down their guard, going to football games as usual and participating in large-scale religious festivals. The progress of vaccination was also slow, as just a few tens of millions of people have been vaccinated, translating into just a few per cent of India's entire population. As a result, the second wave of the pandemic has been unstoppable, with middle-class neighbourhoods in big cities such as Mumbai in particularly dire straits.
Of the different kinds of vaccines around the world, 60% are produced in India. The pandemic outbreaks that are going out of control there will greatly affect the global economy and vaccine production.
明報社評 2021.04.29：疫苗大國自救乏力 印度疫情牽動全球
■/ Glossary 生字 /
inflection point：a time of significant change in a situation
rock bottom：the lowest point or level that is possible
be bulging at the seams：to be very full, esp. of people