COVID explodes in India

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Welcome to your week. Quick Take for you. Thought I would talk today about India.

The epicenter today and for the foreseeable future of the coronavirus pandemic. We are seeing 350,000 cases a day and over 2,000 deaths. Those are surely massive undercounts for an incredibly poor and half rural population that has nowhere near the infrastructure or political will to engage in the data collection that you would need to get those numbers out. The presumption is the real numbers are five to 10 times that. The government is hoping that these cases and deaths will peak in mid-May, about a month away. This is, I mean in terms of the total path of the pandemic, this is by far the largest outbreak that we've seen since this started over a year ago.

Narendra Modi is taking it pretty hard politically in India, in part because back in January, when he was speaking at the World Economic Forum meeting, virtually, he basically declared victory over coronavirus, that India was one of the countries that had successfully controlled coronavirus. Obviously, seriously premature in that announcement. Lots of domestic blowback, lots of people calling for his resignation on social media, and the rest. Modi supporting mass campaign rallies. He was certainly wearing a mask all the way through, has certainly been very supportive of vaccines. But the inability and unwillingness of the Indian government to get ahead of this in terms of more quarantines and lockdowns, the economic cost would be massive for India. And allowing for these massive gatherings of humans, not just around election rallies, but specifically the Kumbh Mela, where you've got all of these, it's a religious ritual with 3 million people gathering, bathing in the Ganges River, massive super spreader events greater than anything we've seen in the world. And you know, that's clearly an indictment on his leadership.

Now, I want to be clear, I would not give Modi the same negative marks that I would for people like Bolsonaro in Brazil, or AMLO in Mexico, or Trump in the United States, because he hasn't been a denier of the vaccine, he hasn't been promoting false cures, hasn't been saying don't wear masks, he hasn't politicized the virus domestically the way that some of those other leaders have. People like the former President Magufuli in Tanzania, who died of COVID, still not admitted as such by their government. And also, the fact that India is incredibly poor, it's incredibly densely populated in urban centers. They have nowhere near the healthcare or testing infrastructure, never mind the United States, but even of a Brazil or a Mexico. And India was until very recently exporting vaccines around the world. They were part of the solution, not part of the problem. So I don't think that we should paint the same brush against Modi, that we are some of the world's leaders that have truly fallen down on this crisis. But still the size of India, the impact of all of these millions and millions of Indians that are coming down with COVID is going to lead to a lot more variants of coronavirus around the world, which requires more booster variants and very difficult for the companies to know how many they should make of which and apply them to which regions, and that will make the vaccines in turn, somewhat less effective. So it is a big problem.

And the United States, the most powerful economy, country in the world, needs to recognize that we have to do more. We've known that it was going badly in India for at least a month now. And the Indian government and the leaders of their vaccine institutes have been requesting, increasingly, alarmingly, support from the United States. Remember, India as a part of The Quad, they're supposed to be coordinating with us around vaccine export back when that was the thing, and in terms of not accepting, aligning with the Chinese in terms of help and support. The Indian government has leaned into that and now they are blaming the United States for not doing much, not exporting vaccines, not even having export of vaccine ingredients. There were export controls on all of those ingredients. And anyone that you talk to in this field would say that the US could have moved on this easily a month ago and it would have made a big difference on the ground to India.

Now, I am happy to say that over the last 48 hours, the US government, the National Security Council has announced that they are going to start providing those ingredients, medical professionals, and other assistance for the Indian government as quickly as possible. That is certainly welcome. But is it enough? It is certainly late and that is a problem. I think the United States needs to understand that coronavirus is not just a global disease, but we need a global immune system. And the focus, the extraordinary focus on the United States, as politically essential as that is, is not the appropriate epidemiological response. It's like saying, "Okay, well, we know that we've got a problem in the lungs and so we're going to treat the lungs and the lungs are great, but there's also a problem in the liver, there's a problem in the heart." And we have been completely ignoring that. But we're all one body. And indeed, humanity on the planet with the pandemic is all one body. And this is going to come back and affect us in the United States. There's no question.

So we need to take a more global view on this pandemic. The numbers that are coming out of India, and again, nowhere close to what the real numbers in India surely are right now. Hopefully we'll start to truly focus the mind on this issue in Washington, something that I am sure I will be talking a lot more about in coming weeks and months.

So that's a Quick Take from me today. I hope everyone is safe. In the United States, increasingly, don't have to avoid as many people, but in India you surely do. Talk soon.

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