Authorities in India have been accused of covering up the spiralling healthcare crisis after doctors were threatened for blowing the whistle on oxygen shortages and criticism of the government was censored online.
The chief minister Yogi Adityanath of the state of Uttar Pradesh, a firebrand Hindu monk from the ruling BJP party, triggered panic after saying police could arrest individuals and hospitals reporting a shortage of medical oxygen or beds.
Medics in the state said the government was trying to “hide the truth”. “If Chief Minister visits hospitals, he shall regret over his comments that there is no shortage of oxygen,” said an officer in a private hospital in Lucknow, who wished anonymity.
“He wants hospitals [to] hide the truth. He is least bothered about the people dying in hospitals and at homes,” he said.
It came as the regional government charged a man under the Epidemic Act, accusing him of creating fear among the people after he pleaded on Twitter for oxygen for his 88-year-old relative. “Need oxygen cylinder, ASAP,” Shashank Yadav had tweeted on Monday.
State police said the tweets were misleading, in a warning to others speaking out on social media.
A hashtag calling for the resignation of prime minister Narendra Modi was briefly blocked on Facebook on Wednesday night, hiding more than 12,000 posts critical of the Indian government as the second wave of the pandemic spins further out of control.
Facebook users based in India noted on Twitter that the hashtag #ResignModi had been blocked from view.
“We temporarily blocked this hashtag by mistake, not because the Indian government asked us to, and have since restored it,” a Facebook spokesperson said.
The censoring came after Twitter deleted critical posts about India’s handling of the pandemic after a legal request by the Indian government.
Prime minister Narendra Modi is facing sharp criticism after Covid-19 patients were seen dying at the hospital gates and hospitals shutting their doors to patients because of a shortage of oxygen and beds.
Hospitals in India are now forcing families to fill in consent forms confirming that if their patients die because of shortage of oxygen or ventilator, the hospital will not be held responsible.
People can no longer get ambulances to take the dead from their homes, and crematoriums are running short of space because of rising fatalities.
Meanwhile, people in large numbers are voting in the final phase of elections in West Bengal, where Mr Modi’s BJP is vying to dethrone a powerful regional leader.
Long queues of voters were seen outside polling booths on Thursday, raising concerns about the further spread of Covid infection in the state. West Bengal recorded 17,207 new cases, the highest spike, in the last 24 hours.
Officials say 56 per cent out of total of 8.5 million voters turned out to vote by 1pm.
Experts fear that West Bengal could be the next epicentre of the virus after millions of people attended political rallies.
Earlier this month Mr Modi attended mass election events in West Bengal where he greeted hundreds of thousands of maskless people.
For the eighth day straight, India on Thursday set a global daily record for new infections, driven by the emergence of an insidious new variant, described as a double mutant, which has overwhelmed the country’s healthcare system and its funeral sites.
The 3,79,257 fresh Covid-19 cases over the past day brought India’s total to more than 18.3 million, behind only the United States. The health ministry reported another 3,645 deaths in the past 24 hours, pushing India’s COVID-19 fatalities to 2,04,832.
India has administered over 140 million jabs so far, and over 100 million people are yet to receive their second dose. It could still need over 1 billion doses of vaccines. Given the country’s current production capacity and the delay in bringing in foreign vaccines, supply will almost certainly fall short of demand.
To control the accelerating second wave of the pandemic, India is planning to vaccinate all the people above the age group of 18 from May 1.
However, over 12 million people were unable to book a vaccination appointment on the first day of sign-up because of a lack of vaccines. Social media is awash with people complaining they won’t get a vaccine until June.
Several Indian states have in the past few days indicated they may not be able to begin the drive on May 1 as they are still securing supplies.
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