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Top medical journal Lancet has slammed India's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, accusing the government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi of inadequately responding to warnings of a second wave.
Citing a recent estimate of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, the Lancet said that India's coronavirus death count may hit 1 million by August 1. "If that outcome were to happen, Modi's government would be responsible for presiding over a self-inflicted national catastrophe," it stated in an editorial published on May 7.
The early successes registered by India in combating the first wave of the pandemic were "squandered", the journal stated, adding that the government's COVID-19 taskforce "had not met in months" till April - when several parts of the country were gripped by the second wave.
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According to Lancet, the Modi government must revamp its COVID-19 strategy. It should begin by "owning up to its mistakes, providing responsible leadership and transparency, and implementing a public health response that has science at its heart", it said.
The journal stated that the Indian government, "at times, has seemed more intent on removing criticism on Twitter than trying to control the pandemic".
"Modi's actions in attempting to stifle criticism and open discussion during the crisis are inexcusable," it added.
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Lancet also condemned Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan for his claim made in March that India was in the “endgame” of the epidemic.
"The impression from the government was that India had beaten COVID-19 after several months of low case counts, despite repeated warnings of the dangers of a second wave and the emergence of new strains," the journal stated.
The Lancet editorial was also critical of the Indian government for allowing "religious festivals to go ahead" along with the "huge political rallies". There were warning that they may turn out to be "superspreader events", it added.
To improve the situation, India needs to adopt a two-pronged strategy - focus on vaccination and reduce transmission rate by exploring all options including a national lockdown, Lancet suggested.
"First, the botched vaccination campaign must be rationalised and implemented with all due speed. There are two immediate bottlenecks to overcome: increasing vaccine supply (some of which should come from abroad) and setting up a distribution campaign that can cover not just urban but also rural and poorer citizens," Lancet said.
Second, India must reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission as much as possible while the vaccine is rolled out, the journal stated. "As cases continue to mount, the government must publish accurate data in a timely manner, and forthrightly explain to the public what is happening and what is needed to bend the epidemic curve, including the possibility of a new federal lockdown," it added.
The Lancet report comes at a time when India's active caseload has surged to 37,23,446, comprising 17.01 per cent of the total infections recorded in the country so far. As per the last update issued by the health department on May 8, a record-high of 4,187 deaths were reported in the past 24 hours. The corresponding period also witnessed 4,01,078 new cases.