'It came without warning': Indian politician compares COVID wave to a natural disaster

James Morris
·Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
·3 min read
TOPSHOT - Funeral pyres burn as the last rites are performed of the patients who died of the Covid-19 coronavirus at a cremation ground in Allahabad on April 27, 2021. (Photo by SANJAY KANOJIA / AFP) (Photo by SANJAY KANOJIA/AFP via Getty Images)
Funeral pyres burn at a cremation ground for people who died of coronavirus in Allahabad, India. A politician from the ruling party has compared the COVID-19 wave to a natural disaster. (Sanjay Kanojia/AFP via Getty Images)

A politician from India’s ruling party has compared the country’s devastating coronavirus wave to a natural disaster and claimed it came “without warning”.

Narendra Taneja, a spokesman for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), claimed the Indian government was “caught off guard”.

India, which has a population of 1.4 billion, has seen a dramatic spike in infections and deaths in recent weeks, overwhelming the national health system and leaving some people dying without access to beds or oxygen.

On Tuesday alone, there were more than 360,000 confirmed cases, though the real number is thought to be far higher. Meanwhile, its overall death toll has surpassed 200,000.

Watch: Indian coronavirus death toll crosses 200,000 threshold amid devastating surge

The reopening of society, as well as religious gatherings and election rallies, have been blamed for the massive spike in cases.

On Monday, Dr Maria van Kerkhove, a World Health Organization leader, said of India’s situation: “This can happen in any country if we let our guard down.”

India’s prime minister Narendra Modi is facing huge criticism in the country. One health leader, Dr Navjot Dahiya, labelled him a “super spreader” because of his decisions.

The BJP’s Taneja, speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Wednesday, sought to defend the PM as he said India was “doing very well” in January and February.

BARASAT, INDIA - APRIL 12:  Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses a public rally for West Bengal Assembly Election at Barasat on April 12, 2021 in North 24 Parganas, India.  (Photo by Samir Jana/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
India's prime minister Narendra Modi addresses a public rally on 12 April. (Samir Jana/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

He then compared the huge wave of infections with a natural disaster as he said: “But then we saw the last three, four weeks, the country was hit by a tsunami.

“As you know, tsunamis come without any warning, and suddenly we saw the number of cases going up.

“Today the entire country is overwhelmed, the entire infrastructure is overwhelmed. We were caught off guard.”

Taneja claimed India “has actually handled the situation… remarkably well” when considering the government’s response over the past 12 months.

“I think failure is a very strong word,” he added, saying other countries saw devastating spikes at the start of the pandemic last year.

One UK doctor who has family members in India said the surge will create a “humanitarian crisis” in the country.

Dr Meenal Viz, from Luton, told PA the next few weeks could see people “dying at numbers we probably have never imagined”.

Read more:

WHO warns UK among countries with highest spread of Indian coronavirus variant

Shocking pictures show mass COVID cremations in India as bodies pile high

On Tuesday, Boris Johnson refused to send vaccines to India, with his spokesman saying “we don’t have surplus doses”.

According to Oxford University's Our World in Data website, the UK has administered 68.72 doses per 100 people, compared to 10.33 per 100 in India.

However, the government has sent medical supplies. The first of nine plane-loads of life-saving kit, including 200 ventilators and 95 oxygen concentrators, arrived in New Delhi early on Tuesday.

Watch: India receives first batch of UK-funded COVID aid