A strange kind of post is in circulation, warning journalists not to write on Covid. Even as it is sent out on whatsapp groups, there are disclaimers and clarifications that the post is ‘fake’ and no such strictures have been imposed. Should not either, as censoring will not make the pandemic go away. It will only cover the ongoing suffering and chaos to some extent, but that too will burst through the veils with added force. As the surge has gripped north India in particular, in a vice that is scary and formidable.

This time India that was just congratulating herself for a crisis well managed, has been hit with a ‘shock and awe’ impact by the deadly virus. It seems to have crept into every home, even as super spreaders like the election rallies and the Kumbh mela look the other way. Young people, including infants, are being hit even as the official figures break all records and catapult India into the second ---and who knows even as we write this first--position across the world. In fact foreign media reports seem to be urging their governments to recognise the surge in India, and ban Indian travellers.

India’s fragile health care seems to be giving way to the Covid virus attack. The medical practitioners are as committed and dedicated as always, working around the clock at grave risks to themselves, but the vaccines are running out, the oxygen is in short supply, and essential medicines for tackling the Covid virus are ---according to media reports--being sold in the black. The overworked facilities are finding it impossible to cope with the surge, with tests taking all of three to five days, and hospitalisation becoming more and more remote as the pandemic shows no sign of abating. Stories of death and suffering from all the states are hitting citizens hard, creating a scare even in their most ascetic form. There is no need to sensationalise, the pandemic is sensational enough.

After finger pointing at each other with impunity, politicians looking for victory in the election bound states, are slowly being made to realise the deadliness of this surge. And that the virus respects no boundaries, has no religion or caste, and is hitting all and sundry without discrimination. This silence of course has not stopped the religious gatherings, or the election rallies, or even allowed the Election Commission to list the Trinamool Congress plea and club the remaining West Bengal election phases into one day. Schizophrenia seems to define the official approach of governments, one rule for politics and religion, and another for the common citizen who is again paying a price not just with her health but also economically.

The migrant workers showed more sense and left the cities before the impending lockdown, while the trains are still running. People have been left to themselves to find doctors, hospital beds, medicines, with the media flooded with stories of their plight as oxygen disappears from the markets and hospitals deny them a bed. Other countries have faced the same surge, except that the medical facilities ----and every government of India since 1947 can take a bow---are non existent even in the best of times. One hears of the capitals , including Delhi, struggling to survive, so one can just imagine the conditions in the smallest towns of India.

The one shortage that citizens were led to believe would not happen was that of the vaccines for arresting Covid. But now this too seems to be in a mess, with the government that had boasted of exporting vaccines, unable to handle the shortage within the country. The Russian vaccine has been invited in, and unconfirmed media reports suggest that others like Pfizer and Johnson Johnson are in negotiations. This surge is hitting the younger people who have not been included in India’s vaccination mandate, more so as they have had to resume normal life and like the rest of the country were lulled into a false sense of complacency.

Masks, sanitisers, social distancing --- the one preventive that has worked from the beginning till now, was happily dispensed with as home guards and traffic police pounced in on the lone drivers in their cars with heavy fines for not wearing masks, and ignored the teeming masses in the markets and elsewhere who seemed to have forgotten that the virus was still alive. One cannot blame the cops as the governments too evolved a dual policy such as the Uttarakhand government imposing restrictions on gatherings and curfew in Haridwar town, while giving the millions at the Kumbh Mela blanket permission to gather at the ghats.

It is difficult to suggest measures that the governments should take, as the horse has bolted. It needs to be brought back into the stable - through a series of intelligent and not political measures in consultation with senior medical experts --starting now. The first has to be increasing the beds, ensuring a steady supply of oxygen and medicines, and increasing the pace of vaccination after making it universal. Measures to break the cycle need to be well thought out and implemented, without politics marring the goal. Weekend lockdowns might sound romantic but seem silly at best given the raging status of the pandemic. The suffering has to be mitigated, and stopped. This denial of basic rights to citizens of India needs to be addressed immediately.