The world is going through a challenging time as we witness a fresh wave of COVID – 19 infections. The second wave has indeed been much more devastating, with the peak daily cases being 4 times higher than the corresponding value for the first wave.
However, India is not the only country that witnessed a significantly higher number of cases, as there are a total of 10 countries with a similar fate. As an example, Taiwan, which was once viewed as a success story has found its peak cases to be close to 10 times the first wave. This just reinforces that every country has found its existing healthcare capacity to be overwhelmed by a pandemic of such a significant proportion. Accountability must be sought from those who enabled the virus to get out from confined spaces – & we must welcome the recent decision by the US administration seeking an explanation so as to the origins of the COVID – 19 virus.
However, even as we attempt to understand the origins of the virus, it is equally important to explore the policies that have worked. Given India’s sheer size & its complex governance structure, different states have adopted different policies which provide us with a large natural experiment to compare and contrast actual outcomes.
The particular case of Delhi emerges as an important one as the city witnessed a significantly higher death rate than the national average during the second wave. As a matter of fact, Delhi performed significantly poorly compared to the rest of the country – despite having extensive central government-funded healthcare centres in the city unlike most of the country. Thus, it is only natural to ask what was the reason behind Delhi’s relatively poor performance?
The answer to this lies in the chronic case of misgovernance which has become a characteristic feature of the Delhi Government. For starters, the Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi did little to expand healthcare capacity in the city. This happened ever since the Aam Aadmi Party took charge as it did not establish even a single new hospital during its tenure. Moreover, their sheer negligence was at the display when they did not even use the time between the two waves to augment the healthcare capacity of the state. Even as Central Government sent warnings in February & even in March of a likely outbreak of infections, there was little focus on preparing for the crisis. Rather, we saw a substantial number of resources being spent on advertisements – some even in newspapers in different parts of the country.
Even as the 2nd wave was on, the Delhi Government was too busy playing politics on the issue of oxygen supplies even as it struggled to get the logistics in place. It was upon the failure of the Delhi Government in terms of arranging for logistics that the Union Government was asked by the courts to intervene. Despite arranging for adequate logistics and increasing the allocation of oxygen for Delhi, there was a shortage – even though other parts of the country were managing the same number of patients with less oxygen. It was thus suggested that a proper oxygen audit be undertaken to ensure that a scarce commodity was utilized judiciously. The talk of an audit ensured adequate oxygen supplies miraculously – a fact which may suggest that there were allocation issues with regards to the state government which could have created the shortage in the first place. Of course, one would need a thorough enquiry into these issues – more so given that the city has seen so many lives being lost simply because of such allocation issues.
The cases in Delhi have started to moderate, and the Delhi Government promised oxygen plants to be set up in the city within a month. The plants are yet to be set up even after a month of the original statement, and this itself shows the type of governance that Delhi witnessed during the pandemic.
At a time when the AAP Government should be working to ensure adequate facilities in the event of a third wave, they are busy discussing the issue of vaccines. Indeed, vaccines are important and perhaps a sure way to put an end to the pandemic. However, Delhi Government was the one that had originally asked for permission to buy vaccines directly. Despite the central government granting them this permission, they now want the central government to procure the vaccines and give it to them – which was the original policy of the central government.
As a matter of fact, there is no official record provided by the state government on the extent of vaccine doses that have been ordered. The administration had an entire month of May to get their orders in place with the two domestic manufacturers, however, they are now keener on getting Pfizer even as the company has a tight delivery schedule. That SII or Bharat Biotech could deliver the vaccines sooner is not important for the Delhi Administration – which is perhaps why they are yet to put on record if they have placed any formal orders.
Frequent U-turns, lack of focus on governance and a constant urge to be in the news is what defines the work of the Delhi Government. Most were oblivious to the fact that the Delhi Model was non-existent, however, COVID has exposed the reality. With Delhi emerging as a poor performer during the 2nd wave, the Chief Minister should focus on serving the people of Delhi rather than harbouring ambitions for a nearby state. He must withdraw his support to the middlemen protestors who may lead to a fresh wave of cases for the people of Delhi. Failing to do so will make it amply clear, that AAP has no interest in governing Delhi as politics is more important for them rather than the welfare of the people who voted for them.