Second COVID wave brought human avarice to fore in ways that could never have been imagined

ICU beds even in small nursing homes in NCR were made available for Rs. 50,000- to Rs. 70000 per day. In the national capital, a hospital reportedly charged Rs 10 lakh for admission in advance

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Representative Image
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S.K. Goyal

Nature has been over exploited and brutalized by mankind over the last few decades for selfish reasons and material gains. Mountains have been blasted and cut to build dams and widen roads. Rampant construction made on river beds is disturbing fragile ecology. Forests have been cleared to set new industries, agriculture and for deep mining of natural minerals.

The air we breathe is heavily polluted due to heavy industries and coal based power plants discharging poisonous gases in air. Vehicular emissions, stubble burning, unauthorized construction, use of generator sets etc have made life in all major cities miserable and significant human deaths attributed to it.

Rivers are heavily polluted with discharge of industrial effluents and raw sewer water. In May this year, hundreds of dead bodies of COVID victims were dumped into Ganga to save on cremation costs. The sea is equally polluted with plastic and other wastes.

The sub soil water in North West India is contaminated which has spread cancer and other diseases on account of excessive use of fertilizers and chemicals for higher yield of crops. Excessive use of pumping sets to feed water-dependent crops has led to depletion of water levels.

Not surprisingly, nature started hitting back in the form of climate change, resulting in floods in some parts and drought in other parts of the country. The temperature in sea water is rising and glaciers are melting fast. There are frequent avalanches and typhoons in some parts of the world bringing destruction to life and property. As per a popular saying, ‘Nature provides for needs of every being but not for greed’.

In 2019, the practice by people in China trading in wild animals to earn more money reportedly brought a new virus, dubbed SARS-COV-2 or Coronavirus, even though a theory that it leaked from a lab in Wuhan is gaining ground. Over the last several months, COVID has caused a huge number of deaths across the world, with even the so-called advanced nations unable to check its spread.

India, which is a developing country with a creaking and over burdened health structure, cracked in the face of this unexpected onslaught. When it first showed up in the country last year, the government suddenly declared a nationwide lockdown, giving just a four-hour window to the citizens to stock up on essentials. Trains, airlines, buses and all other forms of transport came to sudden halt all over the country.

The resultant panic among migrant workers, who were left with no source of income and tried to return home, has been widely documented. Hundreds trudged on foot with their families and meager belongings to reach home situated a few hundred kilometers away, turning the situation into a crisis. Millions had no source of income, and the economy was shattered as the lockdown lasted for a few months.

The Govt. tried to improve the infrastructure to treat lakhs of persons getting infected with the dreaded virus and to deal with the thousands who succumbed to the infection. Makeshift hospitals were set up, many with the help of voluntary groups to deal with emergency cases. It took more than 9 months to tame the demon. In January 2021, the number of infections registered a significant decline.

A sense of complacency then seems to have set in both among the concerned Govt. officials and the people at large. There was an erroneous impression that the country had ‘conquered’ the virus.

Some events such as the Kumbh mela at Haridwar, the assembly polls in several states and panchayat elections in UP acted as super spreaders.

In the horrifying events that unfolded, thousands of COVID victims faced acute shortage of hospital beds, oxygen and life saving medicines. Govt. was unable to stop hoarding and profiteering. Even home collection of COVID test was not available.

The number of infections and deaths in the country in April and May surpassed the figures of past full year by 8 to 10 times, as per official estimates. The actual figures were said to be many times higher. Hundreds of children were left orphaned and in some cases entire families were wiped out.

The second wave of COVID had a ferocity and velocity that has never been seen before. It was an enormous tidal wave that simply ravaged the country. The record surge in infections and deaths pushed health infrastructure to the brink and brought it on the verge of collapse.

Human greed reached its zenith. Taking advantage of scarcity of essential items, medicines, medical equipment, hospital beds etc. people indulged in profiteering and black marketing to make a fast back and become rich over night.

Many fly by night operators duped people by simply collecting money to undertake RTPCR test and not showing up. Even some wealthy people and others not connected with the medical line at all started hoarding and black marketing oxygen concentrators. Fire extinguishers were sold as oxygen cylinders and defective pieces were sold at premium rates to the public. Ambulance owners raised their charges by more than 10 times. Same was the position with air ambulances and the accompanying doctors.

A few wedding planners became funeral planners charging exorbitant rates to arrange cremation sites.

ICU beds even in small nursing homes in NCR were made available for Rs. 50,000- to Rs. 70000 per day. There were instances where touts charged Rs. 4-5 lakhs to arrange ICU bed in a Government facility. In Delhi itself, a hospital reportedly charged Rs 10 lakh for admission in advance!

In Chandigarh, a person lost both his sons even as the hospital raised a bill for Rs. 30 lakhs. A patient committed suicide at Hyderabad, unable to pay the hospital bill.

With the State unable to help, many voluntary groups including a few religious groups pooled their resources to lend a helping hand.

In the last few weeks of this year, so much happened that it appeared like a never-ending nightmare— sickness, deaths, fear, shut economy, loss of livelihoods, social isolation, partisan bickering about who is responsible and how to handle it.

The courts attempted to remedy the governance deficit through a series of orders throughout the country.

The situation also led to a huge demand for vaccination. A situation has arisen at many places where vaccinations centers had to be shut and beneficiaries turned away for lack of sufficient supply of vaccines as happened in the case of oxygen and other critical medicines.

The differential pricing in vaccines led to a lurking fear in the minds of some people that it may lead to profiteering.

Avarice is inherent in human beings from the days of yore, reminiscent of an old Russian story where a man was allowed to own as much land as he could measure in the day. He started running to grab the maximum land, but in a few hours, he fell down and died. The moral being, ”How much land does a man require.”

There is a true story of two eminent doctor brothers in the 1960s at Patiala.

One was a competent physician, charged a high fee and not sparing even the dead. He amassed lot of wealth and also invested in a business venture. He met his end by jumping into a canal and his body was never found. His brother, a reputed surgeon did not charge from the poor patients became so popular that the whole city accompanied his funeral on his death. Only good deeds and compassion can lead to salvation in the end.

(Author is a retired IRS officer. Views are personal)

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    Published: 06 Jun 2021, 8:00 PM