In the face of COVID-19—and worse plagues to come—is there hope for one of the most densely populated nations on the planet?
Despite a population of 1.4 billion people living on a landmass one-third the size of the United States, most experts credited India with handling the COVID-19 pandemic rather well for more than a year. However, successful coronavirus control quickly became undone in April of this year, when a surge in cases infected hundreds of thousands of new victims each week. At the peak of the surge, in May, a record 400,000 COVID-19 cases were reported each day in India. In the first week of May alone, India reported 2.7 million new COVID-19 cases and 234,000 deaths (“India reports over 400,000 daily cases for the third time in a week as second wave hammers country,” CNBC.com, May 7, 2021).
By late June, Indian health authorities had recorded more than 30 million cases of COVID-19, and nearly 400,000 deaths—making India second only to the United States in numbers of people affected by the virus.
Various factors are thought to have contributed to the recent surge. By January, the country was becoming complacent about pandemic restrictions. Mask-wearing declined, and sports, religious events, and political rallies brought increasing numbers of people together in tight spaces without social distancing (“Inside India’s COVID-19 Surge,” NewYorker.com, May 4, 2021).
Hospitals and medical facilities in India were overwhelmed by April’s sudden spike in infections, and it wasn’t until mid-April that even one percent of Indians were fully vaccinated against the virus. Even as of late June, fewer than four percent were fully vaccinated, compared to the United Kingdom’s rate above 60 percent and the U.S. rate above 50 percent.
The surge caused so many deaths in such a short period of time that citizens losing loved ones in the nation’s capital, New Delhi, made makeshift cremation sites and resorted to mass burials (“Mass cremations in New Delhi as India’s capital faces deluge of COVID-19 deaths,” ABC.net.au, April 23, 2021). Though crematoria burned through the night, workers were unable to keep up with the continual delivery of more bodies to be burned. In poor rural villages, bodies were buried in shallow sand graves or COVID-19 victims were dumped into the Ganges River and police found the bodies washed up on the riverbanks downstream (“Bodies of COVID-19 victims among those dumped in India’s Ganges—govt document,” Reuters.com, May 16, 2021).
In the absence of modern medical tools, many infected Indians chose to rely on their Hindu faith and its holy symbol, the cow, travelling to cow shelters and covering their bodies in cow dung, urine, and milk (“Indian doctors warn against cow dung as COVID cure,” Reuters.com, May 11, 2021), raising fears that other diseases might be spread by this potentially dangerous practice.
Unhygienic conditions have also been a factor enabling the virus to spread rapidly throughout India. UNICEF India reports that 50 million people in 15 cities have no access to safe and affordable drinking water (“In urban India, 50 million people in 15 cities have no access to safe, affordable drinking water: Unicef report,” HindustanTimes.com, April 24, 2021). In addition, the rural sanitation system is in disarray, as “around 1,200,000 toilets have no water supply and thousands of toilets are completely abandoned, with collapsing roofs, water pipes in poor shape and soggy, broken doors” (“The pandemic has exposed India’s dirty truth: a broken sanitation system,” IndianExpress.com, April 29, 2021). In the absence of safe drinking water and proper waste management, the virus can take a greater toll on diseased and poorly nourished bodies.
The crisis in India has affected nations around the world by limiting vaccine availability, as Indian vaccine manufacturers prioritize their own desperate citizens. India is currently the world’s leading vaccine manufacturer, and more than 70 countries, including Britain, had relied on India to provide 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine for their vaccine rollout programs (“India Cuts Back on Vaccine Exports as Infections Surge at Home,” NYTimes.com, March 25, 2021). Since its surge in cases, India has also decided to greatly reduce its export of vaccines to poorer countries relying on the nation for their own vaccine rollouts.
All of this is a hard blow to a world fixing its hopes on vaccines to kickstart national economies, reinvigorate global travel, and provide confidence to people whose lives have been profoundly affected by the pandemic. As a further blow to the nation’s prospects, more trouble seems to be ahead. With the emergence of a new virus variant, known as “Delta Plus,” public health experts fear that the new variant might lead to a third wave of infections by September or October (“Can India Prevent Third Covid Wave?,” BBCNews.com, June 24, 2021).
In the meantime, we are seeing the impact of our tightly linked global economy. Australia has worked very well to minimise the impact of COVID-19 and recently stopped 70 dual Indian-Australian citizens—who had either tested positive to the virus or had been a close contact of a positive case—from boarding a flight back to the country (“More than 70 passengers barred from first repatriation flight from India after 40 test COVID positive,” SBS.com.au, May 14, 2021).
Jesus Christ warned His disciples that pestilences would arise in various places in the last days, yet these would be only the beginning of sorrows (Matthew 24:7–8). God also told the Israelites that He would appoint terror and sickness upon them if they refused to obey Him (Leviticus 26:14–16). However, God promises to forgive and provide blessings of health and peace to those who do repent and follow Him (Jeremiah 33:6, 8).
These are not encouraging times, but there will be an end to pandemics! India and other disease-stricken nations of this world will be cleansed and protected from deadly infirmities when God’s hand guides the way to a healthier future. A day will come when proper hygiene will be taught and available to all mankind, and effective health principles will be utilised, promoting more vibrant, glowing societies. God expects us to do our best to take care of the bodies He has blessed us with. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit… from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20). Even during this health crisis, you can be implementing helpful biblical health principles in your own life. Read our timely booklet Biblical Principles of Health online or order your free copy at TomorrowsWorld.org.
When Jesus Christ returns and the Kingdom of God brings perfect order by replacing an unstable world, all evil things will be removed along with the pain and suffering they cause. Ultimately, there will be no more hurt! The Apostle John was inspired to give us a glimpse of this new world government coming soon when he wrote that “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). By praying and seeking God, looking forward to His soon-coming Kingdom, we can have hope and confidence that a glorious future will supersede the trials of this present age. May God speed that day!