In Ireland, we are very lucky to be part of what could be seen as the pandemic elite. What I mean by this is that we are in the position within the EU to enable the now safe reopening of our country. It is true that we have endured the worst lockdown yet, with mental health being a big issue in the current situation that may lead to an unresolved epidemic of its own. However, we have been relatively safe when it comes to the virus itself and what affects it can inflict on communities.
In relation to size, we are also dramatically smaller than most countries, with our case numbers now at a steady 300-400 a day, with fewer deaths as the weeks go on. The vaccine rollout has also enabled a sense of possibility and “light at the end of the tunnel”. Optimism is now clearly at the forefront of political statements. Yes, we are lucky. There have been many who have not been so lucky.
Recently, India has been broadcasting horrific scenes of the effects of the second wave on the people. Similar to the first wave in Wuhan, China; we see people gasping for air, overcrowded hospitals, and mass graves. Yet, with the new footage arising from India, the effects seem to me much more catastrophic, wiping out communities, families, and generations.
Recorded active cases on 5 May 2021 was 3,487,229. The average number of positive cases per day is approx. 380,000, with the highest recorded number of cases per day being 400,000. However, case numbers are on the decline and the number of patients who are recovering from the virus is approx. 338,000 per day – a number that is rising every day. Meanwhile, the number of deaths fluctuates every day, similar to most countries.
I spoke with Babylon colleague Shantha Kajgar who is currently in India with her family. Similar to the majority of countries during Level 5 lockdown, Shantha states:
“There are lockdowns and curfews based on the decisions taken by the state government. Essential shopping is allowed from 6am to 12pm. Initially, it was 6am -10am which was changed to avoid mass gathering, and the rest of the day everything will be closed.”
However, Shatha feels that this is not benefiting the situation as there are mass gatherings in front of shops, linked to an increase in the spread of the virus. “People are only allowed to go out for vaccination and medical emergencies.”
As India’s vaccination program is rolled out across the country, those who register and essential workers can receive either the Pfizer, AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson vaccine. This is in addition to those already available in India: Covaxin and Covishield.
According to Shantha, most people above the age of 45 have been vaccinated and are now waiting for a second dose. Vaccination for people above 18 years of age started from 1 May 2021.
Ongoing issues faced by crowded hospitals have resulted in a shortage of vaccines, oxygen, and beds; “There are no beds available for the people who are in critical condition”
Aid has been provided by the UN and individual countries including oxygen, hospital equipment, and vaccines. This has also been enabled by constant access to the internet:
“Social media is a blessing, I would say. I have seen my closest friends raise funds for people and closed ones who cannot afford the hospital bills, arrange medicines and blood for the people in need.”
However, the situation continues to be out of control and through no fault of their own, the people must find alternative ways to provide a final farewell to their loved ones:
“I was terrified and saddened when I witnessed many bodies being burnt at the same time when I was travelling back home from my friend’s place. That is when the reality hit me.”
As we now exit the harshest lockdowns yet here in Ireland, Shantha also reflects on the effects that lockdowns have on mental health, especially in light of the severe situation occurring in her hometown:
“I understand staying at home is safe, but life becomes monotonous and sometimes it can take a toll on mental health. One good thing is that staying in India I work for Babylon where I will be occupied for most of the day. The rest of my free time I will spend playing with kids near my house and with my dog, going on walks, and watching shows online.”
In an ideal world, everyone would take the pandemic seriously and by now, most of us have experienced its effects. We may have lost loved ones, our jobs, or possibly even dealt with the illness ourselves, yet there is always opposition and denial that the virus is less deadly than it is ‘made out’ to be:
“I see both kinds of people: one who are well aware of the virus and its effects, they take appropriate measures and stay safe; and the other kind, who are careless and fearless about the virus and roam around freely spreading it to innocent people. I really want us to get out of this situation soon.”
It is not impossible that our small island could face something similar to India. We are of course in a different situation as our population is increasingly vaccinated. However, this testimony reflects how easy it is for a hospital, a government, or the general population to become overwhelmed by the sheer uncertainty and traumatic effects of the pandemic.